oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - The powers of local government in decentralised systems of government: managing the 'curse of common competencies'



The issues and problems flowing from common competencies are shared by many, if not all, decentralised and federal systems; they are a feature arising from the division of powers between two levels of government. The problem is particularly pronounced when a third level of government is added - local government. Common competencies are mainly a function of the way local government powers are defined in constitutions. Because of the position of local government in the hierarchy of governments, local government is seldom given clearly demarcated exclusive powers. Moreover, the supervisory role of the 'senior' levels of government over local government, inevitably means that concurrency of powers occurs. Common competencies create a number of problems for the effective and efficient functioning of government. They include the following: duplication of services; ineffective service delivery; unfunded mandates for the lowest level of government; the domination of local government by 'senior' levels of government; and the lack of transparency and accountability. There are basically two approaches in dealing with these problems: first, seek greater division and certainty in the division of powers; and second, develop constructive ways of managing the tension through cooperation between levels of government.


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