Original Research

The Impact and Dilemma of Unfunded Mandates Confronting Local Government South Africa: A Comparative Analysis

M. Basdeo
Africa’s Public Service Delivery & Performance Review | Vol 1, No 2 | a30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/apsdpr.v1i2.30 | © 2012 M. Basdeo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 November 2016 | Published: 01 September 2012

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M. Basdeo, University of South Africa, South Africa

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Local government has emerged from a prolonged transition to face a second generation of challenges, namely unfunded mandates. Compliance with the current financial management system is a constant challenge for local government. To complicate matters local government is challenged by the dilemma of unfunded mandates which are an extreme manifestation of the phenomenon of governing from the centre. National government through various strategies imposes national mandates on provincial and local government at the expense of the latter. The incidence of unfunded mandate reflects a power hierarchy. Unfunded mandates are generally a significant indicator of the relative weakness of national government because it is often local government occupying constitutionally and politically the weakest position in the hierarchy that is burdened with new responsibilities. In decentralised and federal government systems, provincial/state and local governments object to unfunded mandates because they shrink their policy space, limit their expenditure choices and ultimately local government’s accountability to their electorates. Further, these systems of governance establish a hierarchy of authority that creates  notions of self-rule by national government. Unfunded mandates reflect systemic weaknesses of decentralised or federal allocation of powers and functions. Although there are principled objections, unfunded mandates remain constitutional. Given the wide incidence of unfunded mandates the critical question arises as to how in a decentralised system, one level of government can impose mandates with cost implications on another. How is it constitutionally justifiable?


Local Government; Unfunded Mandates; Service Delivery; South Africa


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