Speech by the Chief Whip of the Majority Party, Honourable Jackson Mthembu on the occasion of the Presidency Budget Vote (Vote 1) debate in the National Assembly, Parliament of the Republic of South Africa

23 May 2018

Honourable Speaker
His Excellency, the President
Honourable Ministers
Honourable Members
Esteemed Guests and all workers

Let me start this debate on a very personal note. I dedicate this speech to a farm worker, a domestic worker, a woman who supported me in my political activism, a woman who taught me values of Ubuntu, empathy and respect. A woman who taught me to follow my dreams without any fear. A woman who was not only a mother to me, but also the father I never knew and never met. A single mother who raised me and who sadly passed on in February this year. I dedicate this speech to my mother, Nantoni Mthembu, may your soul rest in peace.

In all the budget vote debates this year, ANC Members of Parliament have consistently evoked the ethical and moral leadership of uTata uMadiba and uMama uSisulu. I also join them in thanking these icons for giving us as a people, a country and the world, a moral compass and conscious.

Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, our mission as the ANC has consistently been the creation of a better life for all South Africans. Towards this goal, and Vision 2030 - the NDP, our efforts to eradicate Apartheid and colonial fault lines of racial segregation, discrimination and the triple oppression of women is well recorded by historians.

The fight against poverty, stubborn unemployment and inequality remains firmly on the ANC radar screen with different levels of achievements. Whilst more still needs to be done, we can without any contradiction say that more of our people have been lifted out of extreme poverty; we have expanded provision of social grants, housing and basic services to many our people; and further improved access to better education through the introduction of fee free basic and higher education and the phasing in of the National Health Insurance, thus improving access to quality healthcare to many.

The question of growing the economy and the creation of jobs remains key in our endeavours as our speech will indicate later.

The land question remains an important issue we must tackle in a responsible manner as to not negatively impact on agriculture and food security. Whilst we welcome the outcomes of the ANC land summit held this past weekend, we are in the same vain appreciative of the role parliament is playing in giving a voice to all people of South Africa on how best to deal with the question of land dispossession and landlessness among black people in our country, articulated by the President as the Original Sin in his State of the Nation Address.

To date, over two hundred thousand submissions have reached the Constitutional Review Committee of Parliament. This is unprecedented and shows the extent to which many South Africans would like this matter resolved once and for all.

The ANC remains the only political formation which carries the hopes and aspirations of the people of this country. It is only the ANC that can deliver a President who hails from one of the smallest national groups in the country. To quote scholar Oscar Van Heerden -
“Cyril is the first Venda to occupy the West wing at the Union Building and this achievement speaks volumes with regards to the ANC’s character and principles. To elect a person to the highest office in the land that hails from the smallest tribe in the country sends a clear and powerful message that anyone, no matter what background, class status, gender or tribe can aspire to be President of this great country of ours.”

The year 2018 can be characterised as a year pregnant with optimism. We have in the past three months seen a country which has been reborn, rebooted and recalibrated to better serve our people.

Honourable President, this Saturday will mark the first 100 days since this House elected you as the fifth democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa. In fact, today marks day 97 of your elevation to this high office, heralding a new dawn.

Our country is oozing with hope. This new era has successfully put South Africa on a new trajectory with a measurable improvement in levels of confidence among ordinary citizens, business people and investors in our government.

To quote comrade Dr Essop Pahad -

“The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as President of the ANC in December 2017, and also in February 2018, as President of the Republic of South Africa unleashed a wave of hope, optimism and joy in the country, cutting across race, class, gender and religion. This was also reflected in an up-swing in the economy, improvement in business confidence, more measured tones from the rating agencies and a possible buoyant response from foreign investors.”

According to the Bureau for Economic Research, Business Confidence in South Africa jumped by 11 points from 34 to 45 in 2018. An increase of such magnitude is rare: since 1975. According to the Merchantec CEO Confidence Index, CEO confidence in South Africa recorded a 56.18% increase from a low level of 38% to a score of 60% in 2018 This is the highest level of CEO Confidence recorded by this index in six years.

The Presidents’ first 100 days in office has shown that uyathumeka.

In your State of the Nation Address characterized by the spirit of Thuma Mina, comrade President, you made the following commitments, among others – A Youth Employment Service (YES) Initiative to place a million unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the country over the next three years – this was launched on 27 March 2018. This is but one initiative which is geared to stimulate job creation and economic inclusion among our young people.

As part of measures to stabilise governance and improve the financial and operational performance of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs); comrade President, you committed to review the funding model of SOEs and other measures, and change the way in which boards are appointed.

To this end, the Boards of Eskom, Denel, Prasa and Transet have been replaced and these SOEs are on a new trajectory of renewal. We are confident that our SOE reform programme will in the long term result in SOEs contributing meaningfully to our Fiscus and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), instead of being a drainage to it.

In improving state capacity, comrade President, you committed to appoint a commission of inquiry into the tax administration and governance of the South Africa Tax Revenue Service (SARS). The stabilisation of the South African Revenue Service has since received your priority attention with the establishment of a commission of inquiry.

It is common knowledge that following community protests and the report of an inter-ministerial task team, Cabinet decided to intervene in the North West province in terms of the relevant sections of the Constitution to place all provincial departments and a number of municipalities in the North West under national administration. This is to ensure that government services are delivered effectively, financial management is improved and allegations of corruption are decisively dealt with.

The political will to decisively deal with corruption in the wake of this new dawn has boosted public confidence in government. We look forward to the Judicial Commission on State Capture to commence its work in dealing with damning allegations of corruption in public institution. The report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into ill-governance in Eskom will soon be tabled by the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises for adoption by the National Assembly.

Comrade President, all those found to have been involved in state capture and the looting of our state resources, both tigers and flies as the Chinese would say, must face the necessary consequences, including imprisonment. It is also our held view that they must pay back the money they have stolen as these are benefits from proceeds of crime in terms of our laws.

Honourable President, in your SONA you promised the country an investment conference which has been scheduled to take place later this year. You have since appointed very capable men and women as special investment envoys to develop an investment portfolio for the country ahead of such a conference. The ambitious investment target of $100 billion raised over the next five years is most welcomed. From these actions you have taken, it is quite clear that, that investment conference will not be a talk shop but a serious investment boost to our economy.

Honourable President, your deployment of the Security Cluster to stop political killings in KwaZulu-Natal is indicative of your willingness to protect all lives in our country as dictated by our Constitution. The urgency that you have put into the resolution of political killings in that corner of the country is most welcomed by the families of the victims. We also add our voice, hoping that the perpetrators of these killings will be brought to book sooner rather than later; and end the killing fields of KZN, and any other politically motivated killings anywhere else in our country.

All these matters we have raised above, which were part of your 100 days in office are ample proof that we have an ANC government, under your leadership and stewardship, with a mission and vision to return this country to the values that Madiba stood for – in the main, being the creation of a better life for all South Africans.

We applaud the Presidency in leading by example in implementing cost cutting measures in our current economic climate. The Presidency’s baseline has been significantly reduced by 2% over the medium term, amounting to a total budget cut of approximately R29.7 million over the next three years.

Much has been done by the Presidency to contain costs, including reducing the sizes of delegations of international trips of the President and Deputy President and the use of tele- and video-conferencing for meetings. The Presidency also reduced its mobile communication services contract expenditure by 74% in 2017. This is a very good example that needs to be emulated by all government departments.

At this stage, we must raise our concern for your attention Honourable President, regarding the fruitless, wasteful, irregular and unauthorised expenditure by government departments and entities.

The 2016/2017 government department audit outcomes as published by the Auditor General shows that about R45 billion went to irregular expenditure, which is an increase of 55% from the previous year. This figure could be as high as R65 billion had all audits been completed at the date of the completion of this report. This is frightening. It cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

As a consequence of the runaway figures in the irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, Parliament will soon be tabling the Public Audit Amendment Bill for adoption. This Bill will empower the Auditor General to refer undesirable audit outcomes arising from audits performed to the relevant authorities for further investigation and action. It will also empower the AG to issue a certificate of debt to recover losses in certain instances against the accounting officer or accounting authority accountable for those losses. We call this consequence management.

Honourable President, we urge government to act decisively to bring an end to what has become brazen irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in government departments and entities.

We note the petty opportunistic elements of the Democratic Alliance in trying to patronise the President in attacking the cost of the current size of Cabinet. What makes this attack quite laughable is the fact the President announced his intensions to reconsider the configuration and size of cabinet in February already.

Clearly, under the Presidency of Ramaphosa, the DA has become irrelevant and deranged. They have simply run out of ideas. Instead of giving us a “Ramaphosa score card”, why is the DA not telling South Africa about their terrible score card against Patricia De Lille. As it stands, De Lille is leading the battle by 10 – 0.

Coming to the actual budget vote of the Presidency, the priorities and milestones as set out in this 2018/2019 budget seeks to ensure that the Presidency continues to fulfil its obligations of –

  1. Integrated planning, coordination and the performance monitoring and oversight of government’s policies and programmes;
  2. The promotion of government’s national unity and social cohesion programmes; and
  3. Supporting South Africa’s role in the regional, continental and international arena.

In the 2018/2019 Financial Year, the Presidency has committed to further strengthen mechanisms to ensure the integrity and accountability of public institutions in pursuit of implementing government’s Programme of Action as outlined in the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2014 – 2019.

We welcome the appointment of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council drawing on expertise and capabilities that reside in labour, business, civil society and academia as a decisive step in championing our agenda for Radical Economic Transformation.

We must also applaud President for having appointed black women as his economic advisor; legal advisor; and spokesperson respectively. We congratulate Trudi Makhaya, Nokukhanya Jele and Khusela Diko on their appointments. This is a first for such senior positions in the Presidency to be held by women, especially black women at the same time.

We also congratulate comrade Dr Gerhardus Koornhof and comrade Ebrahim Ebrahim for their appointments as Parliamentary Counsellors to the President and the Deputy President, respectively.

As the Leader of Government Business, the Deputy President is responsible for issuing a quarterly statement on the performance of the executive and the monitoring and implementation of governments’ legislative programme.

Although the President and Deputy President regularly and religiously account to both houses as per our Rules and Constitution, there is currently no oversight mechanism over the Annual Performance Plan of Vote 1 in Parliament. This matter is receiving the attention of the rules committee.

We urge the Presidency to speedily fill the vacancy of COO which arose due to the departure of Ms Lakela Kaunda on secondment to the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. We thank Ms Kaunda for her distinct service to the Presidency since 2009 until early this year.

Our programme for national unity and social cohesion as a strategic goal under the Presidency must be fostered through collaboration wherein all social partners become change agents for the betterment of this country.

The power of collaborative work in the interest of our country was seen during deliberations by social partners at NEDLAC led by yourself Honourable President, on the National Minimum Wage. The National Minimum Wage Bill is scheduled for adoption by the National Assembly next week within this Workers Month of May.

This intervention will improve the income of over six million workers who continue to experience slave wages that are far below the proposed National Minimum Wage. Those who attack this progressive effort by government in this regard and the current Bill before Parliament, do so merely on the basis of cheap politicking at the expense of the most vulnerable workers of this country.

A key component of the developmental state is capacity and stability, especially in the higher echelons of the public service. We must therefore raise our concern with the high turnover rate of Director-Generals in government over the years. Our new political environment therefore presents the President and his government with an opportunity to come up with measures to contain this worrying trend and development. History has proven that where there is administrative stability with the relevant acumen and know-how, there is better service delivery.

In mentioning DGs, we must give special recognition to Dr Cassius Lubisi for his steady leadership and fidelity as Director General in the Presidency and Secretary of Cabinet.

In advancing South Africa’s Role in the regional, continental and international arena, we applaud South Africa’s involvement in the development of an agreement on an African Continental Free Trade Area aimed to deepen the economic integration of the African Continent, which was presented at an AU summit in Kigali in March 2018. We are also looking forward to the BRICS Summit in July here in our mother land.

The Presidency’s budget is comparatively lower than that of other government departments. The allocation of R512 322 million for the 2018/2019 financial year is essentially intended to provide support, coordination and oversight in terms of government policy development and implementation. This money is therefore needed to coordinate the work of government towards the attainment of our developmental goals as set out in the NDP.

Among the goals of the NDP, access to free quality education is now a reality for millions of historically disadvantaged South Africans. Access to free quality health services for all is on course to becoming a reality. Our economic outlook and growth expectation is positive.

Our government is well on course in dealing with unemployment through initiatives as set out by our President.

We are now, at this current political conjuncture, with a new captain steering the ship, in a better position to achieve our Vision 2030.

The ANC supports this budget and moves for its adoption.

Van Heerdem, O. 2018. The Thinker. http://www.thethinker.co.za/resources/Thinker_76/76%20van%20heerden.pdf

RMB/BER Business Confidence Index (BCI), Q1, 2018. https://www.ber.ac.za/BER%20Documents/RMB/BER-Business-Confidence-Index/...

The Merchantec Capital CEO Confidence Index, Q1, 2018 http://www.merchantec.co.za/ceo_confidence.php