Open letter to Mayor De Lille: Another potential blow to democratic local government

11 June 2013
Honourable Mayor Patricia de Lille

Cape Town

Dear Madam Mayor

Another potential blow to democratic local government

Further to our letter of 05 June 2013 “The Essence of Democratic Local Government”, which dealt with the City of Cape Town Council agenda item C69/05/13, our Association has now learnt that a second document entitled “Repeal of Public Engagement Policy of the City of Cape Town approved by Council on 30 March 2009”, was due to be tabled as agenda item C68/05/13 at the same Council meeting, on 29 May 2013, adjourned to 30 May 2013.

Agenda item C68/05/13 proposed that the City’s Public Engagement Policy be repealed because:

  • it allocates functions to functionaries within Council for which no legal basis exists;
  • it is clumsy and lengthy;
  • it provides for public participation beyond the requirements of Section 17 of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000;
  • time and costs will be saved;
  • the duties discharged by the City’s Public Participation Unit will be minimized

We are glad to learn this document was also withdrawn before the adjourned meeting took place, because the Public Engagement Policy adopted in March 2009 is a sensible one. However, we find it disturbing that the proposal to repeal this Policy was ever placed on the agenda, which means that its content found favour with the persons charged with the responsibility of vetting and approving subjects for discussion at Council meetings.

We find it even more disturbing that your agenda for the Council meeting of 29 May 2013 contained not one but two items, to be debated one after the other, which, if they had been adopted, would have virtually shut down entirely the present space for public participation in the workings of the City of Cape Town.

Both items C68/05/13 and C69/05/13 propose the introduction of policies that are the direct opposite of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) core values. In the circumstances, it is worth quoting here the DA’s Governance Policy in full, as set out in the party’s website at www.da.org.za/our_policies.htm:

Governance Policy

There are five key components of an open society:

  • A constitution that enshrines the rule of law, individual rights and freedoms, and the separation of powers.
  • Transparency and accountability, without which governments abuse their power and compromise the freedoms enshrined in the constitution.
  • Security of person and property.
  • An independent and free-thinking civil society, including a free and independent media and a free and independent political opposition that is loyal to the constitutional order.
  • A general tolerance of difference on the part of the population.
  • An economy that is characterized primarily by the free choices of individuals.

The two key ideas that unite these five components are the related ideas of individual freedom and the limitation of state power. They are related because an extension of state power necessitates a limitation of individual freedom and vice versa. In other words, an open society is one in which attitudes of the population provide the space for them to be themselves and pursue their own ends, and in which both the law and the attitudes of the population provide the space for them so to be.

In protecting and promoting an open society in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance must identify and oppose attempts to limit the space for individual freedom and actively promote the extension of such space.

It is also worth quoting here the last paragraph of the DA’s Vision, as expressed on the party’s website:

Therefore, in an opportunity society that also values individual freedom, the state’s role must be to facilitate, not direct the activity of citizens. If it provides services, it must seek to expand choice, not determine choices; it must not simply “deliver” to a passive citizenry, which takes what it is lucky enough to get, but must allow the citizenry to determine which opportunities it requires; it must encourage independence, not dependence.

In other words, the free, independent, active individual is at the heart of the opportunity society, both in determining the opportunities required and in taking advantage of them.

When considering these statements, which are required reading by every person who puts himself/herself forward for selection as a City of Cape Town DA councillor, it is unsurprising that the opposition by DA councillors at the Council meeting on 29 May to agenda items C68/05/13 and C69/05/13 resulted in them being not tabled. We repeat that we find it disturbing for the future of democratic rule in Cape Town that they were put forward for debate in the first instance.

As the author of the paper “Repeal of Public Engagement Policy of the City of Cape Town approved by Council on 30 March 2009” invokes legality as a reason for repealing this Policy, we would point out that section 195 of the S A Constitution, which is entitled “Basic values and principles governing public administration”, at 195 (1) states:

Public administration must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in the Constitution, including the following principles:

(e) People’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making.

(f) Public administration must be accountable.

(g) Transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information.

We would also remind you of section 152 (a) of the Constitution and section 4 (2) of the Municipal Systems Act No. 32 of 2000 which we set out in our previous letter of 05 June. Section 152 (a) of the Constitution states:

The objects of local government are to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities.

Section 4 (2) of the Municipal Systems Act states:

The council of a municipality, within the municipality’s financial and administrative capacity and having regard to practical considerations, has the duty to:

(b) provide, without favour or prejudice, democratic and accountable government;

(c) encourage the involvement of the local community.

The City’s Policy on Public Engagement adopted in March 2009 enshrines the above principles. To now repeal this Policy would be a hugely retrograde step for an administration that claims to be democratic and loyal to the constitutional order of South Africa.

The proposal put forward in C68/05/13 also claims as cogent reasons for repealing the March 2009 Public Engagement Policy that time and costs will be saved and the Public Participation Unit’s duties will be minimised. It is appalling that such motivations, purely based on officialdom’s self-interest for an easy life, can be advanced for removing one of the basic pillars of a truly democratic government: the wholehearted involvement of the citizenry in the affairs of the state. To paraphrase a section of the DA’s vision:

In protecting and promoting an open society in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance must identify and oppose attempts to limit the space for individual freedom and actively promote the extension of such space.

We trust that these attempts to stifle public participation on decisions concerning their lives will be consigned to the rubbish heap, where they belong.

Yours sincerely

Len Swimmer

Chairman

1 comment to Open letter to Mayor De Lille: Another potential blow to democratic local government

  • Mark Mentor

    Why dont the DA take part in public participation and where they in power the same thing is happening.Our people must stand up and ruled the DA and the ANC out co’s not one of these parties take part in any public participation.The only public participation is went we must vote so that they can be in power to take our rights away.Is the what our votes are good for.

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