Chairperson, I stand here to support the chairperson of the committee and the department for asking the House to approve this Bill. I want to mention that one of the most important steps we had to take in processing this Bill was to beat back efforts by the nine provinces to change the Bill as originally passed by the Cabinet.
Between the Bill leaving Cabinet and reaching the committee, or shortly thereafter, they got together and studied the Bill. They felt that the Bill was seeking to take from provinces, up to national level and down to municipalities. They reinserted all that had previously given them powers and discretion over municipalities and a hold on subsidies, etc. I think that was the most important thing.
For me, this points to the need to return to this matter insofar as the constitutional provisions and the systems Act are concerned, aspects of which have actually limited our ability to really free up the municipalities so that they can deal with the realities of the people over which they preside, the people they serve and the people they account to. I want to say that for me that is the most important thing.
What this Bill does is to take us forward significantly, but it represents incomplete work and the work is incomplete because we were limited by the Constitution and the systems Act.
The Polokwane resolutions of the ANC, taken at the 52nd conference, recognise that more than half of the poor live in rural communities. The majority of the poor in these rural communities are women. Yet in these rural communities - which are mainly your former Bantustans - there is no infrastructure, particularly road infrastructure, and this limits the ability of people to sustain any livelihood. This limits the ability of rural municipalities to play a catalytic role or to be an agent for change and the delivery of a better life in the rural communities.
Therefore, our argument is that, as far as possible, we should work towards a future where the standards will be set nationally, without the possibility of nine different substandards being developed by provinces. With such standards having been set, there would be implementation at local level.
The rural transport strategy of the department envisages rural transport infrastructure. They say that this infrastructure should not only include access roads, but also district roads, public transport interchanges, tracks and other nonmotorised transport infrastructure.
The Bill provides for the maintenance of municipal roads within municipalities. All of these things would require that the necessary funds and resources are transferred to municipalities. However, the most important resource in being able to support the decisions that are taken is the decision-making space and the money.
So, we may be limited by what we have in front of us insofar as attaining the vision that we expressed in Polokwane and attaining the rural transport strategy are concerned. However, we believe that this is work in progress; we shall get there.
We should also be locating this discussion about transport within the overall review of the functions and roles of provinces and municipalities. We believe that there is a need for this discussion to be talking to the process that provisional local government is currently busy with.
As I have said, we may have to return so as to deal with the constitutional limitations and the limitations of the systems Act. The matter of assignment and concurrency has by now, after 14 years, proven to be a very problematic area in that very often you may be left with discretion at provincial level. But, having been in a province for about 10 years, we notice that there tends to be reluctance, particularly on the part of provinces, to assign to municipalities those functions and powers that are prescribed for assignment.
So, we would want to limit - as far as possible in the future - this issue of assignment when a municipality is ready. There's always a tendency to question the readiness of municipalities. The fact that there's a provision in the current Bill that any municipality may request the Minister or MEC to assign the functions contemplated in 1(a) or 1(b), subject to section 156(4) of the Constitution, etc, shows you that a municipality can declare its readiness for any amount of time in any amount of words, but if the MEC is not ready to assign, they may hold back.
The chairperson has referred to the problem that we see in the Western Cape provincial administration, the Cape Metro, etc. There are many other such examples, but our central message here is that we should free up transport for local planning, local accountability, local participation by communities and so on. This we should do through legislative, constitutional and institutional reforms, and thus we would also be creating a platform for serious rural development and serious maintenance of livelihoods in the rural areas.
Perhaps we would then be able to reduce rural poverty and the migration to cities, which creates other pressures on the cities as well as the apparent need for more transport infrastructure. In fact, this could have been avoided or prevented by providing serious transport infrastructure and transport services, with the authority given to the municipalities and the people of the rural areas. That is what we have attempted to provide for, but we believe that a lot still has to be done to achieve more complete space and more complete empowerment for municipalities and the rural communities. Perhaps if we do so, we shall achieve the vision of Polokwane.
On behalf of the committee, I support the chairperson and the Bill. Thank you.