THE future of the provinces will be decided by the 2019 general election, the African National Congress (ANC) said on Friday.

The debate over the future of the country’s nine provinces has been raging in the governing party for years, with some — including its labour ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) — calling for their complete scrapping.

Opposition parties and many within the governing party have opposed the move.

The ANC’s Mangaung conference in December set in motion a firm resolution to deal with the reconfiguration of the provinces, once and for all.

According to the resolutions, a presidential commission should be appointed to review the provinces and make proposals on their roles, on the number of provinces the country should have and their possible boundaries.

The commission’s report should be presented to the party’s mid-term policy review conference, the national general council and any changes to the provinces should be effected "in the 2019 national and provincial elections".

Reconfiguring the provinces would, however, require a constitutional amendment — the ANC requires a 70% majority in Parliament to effect such a change.

The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) came under the spotlight last week after Sasolburg residents took to the streets to protest against a proposal to amalgamate its municipality — Metsimaholo — with the neighbouring Ngwathe Municipality, which includes the town of Parys.

The provincial government had proposed the merge in 2011 but residents were not consulted on the possible merge, leading to the violent, destructive protest in which four people were killed and shops and municipal buildings were looted.

The commission on legislature and governance at the ANC conference noted the many problems in the "role" of the MDB.

It decided that there should be a review of the role, scope and composition of the board and that the state should appoint a panel of experts to assist in this work.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Richard Baloyi has already appointed a task team to review the re-demarcation processes in the run-up to the 2016 local elections.

The public service is also in for a shake-up, with the party resolving that the outstanding issues related to the creation of a "single public service" be finalised.

There appears to be hesitation to push forward with a single public service — the ANC resolved that its top brass should "further consider the implementation challenges and take a final decision on the viability of a single public service within six months".

Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, however, on taking office last year said the state was pushing forward with its plans to create a single public service.

Currently, the government is constrained by the constitution from making appointments at local government level. It cannot intervene in failed municipalities as it had when provincial government departments in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo encountered financial and administrative difficulties.

The Democratic Alliance has come out strongly against the move, arguing that it would snatch away the Western Cape government’s right to appoint its own administration.