Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

A DA proposal to increase the number of seats in the Western Cape provincial legislature has drawn criticism amid calls for the government to cut expenditure across the board.

Ironically, the DA has been vocal about the need to trim the bloated national cabinet and to slash the state wage bill, which ratings agencies have flagged as one of the biggest threats to SA’s finances.

The DA’s proposal to increase the number of seats is also intriguing given the on-and-off debate within and outside the ANC to actually scrap provincial legislatures and devolve their functions to municipalities.

The DA’s plan, which emerged in 2019, has been tentatively backed by the ANC in the province, which says it will need to air the matter at national leadership level. The EFF has also backed the idea. A constitutional amendment will be required to increase the number of seats, and with the three largest parties in parliament backing the proposal, it’s all but cast in stone.

The Western Cape provincial legislature has 42 seats, with the DA having a majority of 24.

The proposal is to increase the number of seats to 52 or 54. With members of the provincial legislature (MPLs) earning at least R1.3m a year, this means that the wage bill could increase by up to R16m a year.

Sceptics argue that it’s merely meant to consolidate the DA’s power in the legislature.

The DA argues that because the population of the Western Cape has grown exponentially since 1994 when the numbers of seats were decided, there is a need for more public representatives to better serve communities. The province’s population has increased from about 4-million in the early 1990s to 6-million people, according to latest statistics.

“The tragedy is that part of the problem is because of in-migration from other provinces because of what is happening there,” the DA’s head of government business in the legislature and provincial leader, Bonginkosi Madikizela, told the Mail & Guardian last week. “And it is unfair to the Western Cape because the capacity of MPLs to serve constituencies is stretched too thin to do their parliamentary work.”

The provincial government has in the past called on the national government to revise the equitable share formula‚ saying it was being sidelined.

The equitable share formula enables the national government to‚ according to developmental demands‚ distribute money to provinces from revenue collected nationally. It is also used to allocate funding to the country’s municipalities.

David Everatt, the head of school of governance at Wits University, says there is a far more important issue, namely the massively different demography of SA in 2020 compared with 1994.

“We are now an urban nation — and tiny Gauteng (1.46% of the land mass) holds 26% of the population, while rural areas and predominantly rural provinces are seeing a population shift — but the equitable share has not kept up with this. Nor has government thinking, which is premised on the notion that ‘rural development’ means ‘rural people want to stay rural’ — no they don’t,” says Everatt.

He is of the view that an integrated decision that looks at the huge population shifts and redesigns governance rules (funds, representation, provincial boundaries and wards) should be taken.

“Put simply, if we don’t adjust how money is allocated to provinces, it won’t help those provinces to simply shell out more salaries for more politicians.”

The Good Party has vehemently opposed the DA’s proposal.

“Even though our party would benefit most from the additional seats, we cannot support this proposal to increase government expenditure by creating more positions for politicians,” says Good’s MPL Brett Herron.

“It is ludicrous to even consider this proposal to increase the budget for politicians when 6,000 children do not have schools or teachers and hundreds of thousands still await housing.

Asking for more salaries for politicians when we cannot even employ enough teachers is immoral and simply cruel. Any debate about it shows how completely out of touch these people are with the real situation in our country.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za