Review amid more angry protests
This week Sydney Mufamadi, Minister for Provincial and Local Government, launched a review process of provincial and local government.
Speaking at the launch in Pretoria, Mufamadi said the review followed a Cabinet decision early this year to assess whether the government's objective to serve the people was being advanced through current provincial and local government administration.
"This decision is in response to the expectation of all South Africans, just as citizens of any other country, to have the right to a more responsive, accountable and efficient, equitable and affordable government and a better quality of service," said Mufamadi.
For the public it is interesting that the review comes in the midst of increasingly violent service delivery protests.
In response to the question about the link between the review and these protests, Mufamadi said not all the protests could be linked directly to the issue of lack of delivery.
He pointed out instances where individuals had used the protests as a way of dealing with intra-political squabbles.
He also pointed out instances where councils, that had laid down their integrated development programmes, were confronted with migrants who were not part of those plans.
"A council develops its programme for its area of jurisdiction, and the next minute it is faced with an influx of new migrants who demand houses," said Mufamadi.
The scenarios painted by Mufamadi are indeed indications of how even effectively run municipalities in parts of the country, in some cases get caught in the crossfire when it comes to the so-called service delivery protests.
Having said so, some of these protests have actually highlighted the shortcomings in the current provincial and local government arrangements.
For example, when people demand houses, they go to the local councils. This is despite the fact that it is not a local government competency to provide housing. That is a provincial competency.
This scenario raises two issues. It is firstly an indication of the public's lack of understanding of the government's workings. The responsibility is on the government to explain these workings - in this case the local government authorities who are at the coalface of delivery.
Constitutionally, provinces have a mandate to provide housing, education, health and social services.
An assessment of how they have faired in executing this mandate will go a long way in determining the future of this level of government.
Recent media reports showing that almost all the provinces have cases where money for low-cost housing was misspent, leading to those provinces re-allocating taxpayers' money, is definitely a blot in this regard.
On the health front, provinces such as Gauteng and Western Cape have acquitted themselves relatively well, especially when it comes to the fight against HIV-Aids and primary health care. This cannot be said about the rest of the provinces.
With regards to education, Western Cape has once more outperformed the rest of the provinces - especially in providing resources and improving the quality of education.
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal come second in this regard.
The establishment of the South Africa Social Service Agency (Sassa) has practically taken the responsibility to provide social grants away from the provinces.
The lacklustre performance by the majority of provinces on education, health and housing raises the question of whether the current provincial government arrangement is tenable.
A counter against a call to abolish provinces will be that provinces like Gauteng and Western Cape have proved that with the necessary political will and resources, provinces can deliver
That the performance is sparsely spread could be an indication that there is a need to pair non-performing provinces with the performers such as Gauteng and Western Cape.
This then raises the question of reducing the number of provinces.
A proposal raised as part of the review process is that "potential synergies within and between geographical spaces or spheres that could result in improved developmental imperative" be considered.
This proposal does suggest, among others, the possibility of merging provinces.
During the review launch, Mufamadi would not comment on speculation that the government was considering reducing the number of provinces.
Some provinces admitted "they did not have as much work as they would like" because most policy decisions were made at national level. See page 13