Why federalism is the way to go - Weekend Argus

30 January 2021 - When the Western Cape government announced that it would be acquiring its own Covid19 vaccines, independent of the national government, it argued that it had learned from the failures of centralised planning in the past, in the procurement of medication for tuberculosis and HIV.

Duwayne Esau

When the Western Cape government announced that it would be acquiring its own Covid19 vaccines, independent of the national government, it argued that it had learned from the failures of centralised planning in the past, in the procurement of medication for tuberculosis and HIV.

This is a step in the right direction, a move towards federalism and devolution one of the principles of the DA, which governs the province which would benefit the country as a whole, should the DA gain power nationally.

Federalism essentially means that power is given to the structure or tier of government that is closest to those who elect it.

Under this system the national government would play an oversight and coordination role instead of the managerial role it currently plays.

The issue with the current system of centralised planning is that everything takes months to get done, as is evident with any project that the government tackles. Moreover, centralisation leads to the national government consuming considerable sums on staffing, without any meaningful contribution to the provinces and municipalities.

A federal system in South Africa would more or less emulate the system of the US, where individual states have considerable power. This system would not make the national government redundant, but would simply ensure that power is given to the elected officials responsible for the government tier in question local or provincial and it would dramatically improve efficiency and service delivery.

Under a DA national government, control over the South African Police Service would be handed to the various provinces, as they are in a better position to assess their own policing needs. The same would happen with control over the railway system.

At present, of course, both of these functions are run by the national government from Pretoria. This helps to explain why trains are perpetually late, and why the SAPS never seems to be able to get its act together and fight crime where it most needs to.

Under a federal system, municipalities would also be able to purchase electricity from independent power producers instead of being beholden to the monopoly of Eskom. The reason why so much power and control was given to the national government in the Constitution, is that its authors did not want to entrench tribalism then manifest across the country on a provincial level. They also did not want to give too much power to local governments for fear that the National Party might turn them into racial enclaves wherever they won.

However, these threats no longer exist, and the country is becoming increasingly integrated. It is time for the next chapter in our governmental structures and organisation, and this means federalism, which would result in an improvement in the lives of all South Africans.

History has shown over and again that central planning is simply not practical, particularly where there is a need to adapt to change daily and deliver services efficiently.

As one Twitter user said in reaction to the Western Cape's vaccines announcement: "Vive la devolution".

Esau is the Strategic Communications Officer at the Institute of Race Relations

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