Speech in the debate on the State of the Nation Address by Hon Trevor Manuel, MP Minister in The Presidency: National Planning Commission

19 February 2013

Mr Speaker,
His Excellency President Zuma,
Honourable Deputy President Motlanthe,
Cabinet colleagues & Deputy Ministers,
Honourable Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

What binds us as a nation? What binds us as Members of Parliament? Taking account of our history, we must agree that the great social compact that is our Constitution binds us together regardless of party affiliation. The promise articulated in the Preamble where it commits us to "Improve the quality of life of all citizens and to free the potential of each person" is what we must all strive for. So we are bound together as Members to strive for development and that, as the author Duncan Green so simply puts it, "Development is about transforming the lives and expectations of a nation`s inhabitants, an ambition that goes far beyond simply increasing monetary income."

This, Honourable Members, is in essence what the National Development Plan is about. It is a commitment to present generations of people living in poverty that we will act to raise their living standards, and a pledge to all of the future generation of South Africans that they will be better off than previous generations. I know that this sounds somewhat trite, but I use these principles as a reminder nonetheless, about what actually convenes us here.

As a government and as reaffirmed by the ruling party recently we have made a strong commitment to ensuring we uphold the principles embodied in the Constitution. But we understand that this cannot be done by government alone and recognise the importance of having united action by all South Africans to eradicate poverty, create employment and reduce inequality as outlined in Vision 2030 and the National Development Plan.

Our country is characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality. Governing in such an unequal country is difficult. The interests of a billionaire are different from a manager earning R1 million a year. The interests of the manager is different from the person earning R50 000 a year. And yes, the interests of the worker earning R50 000 a year is often different from the unemployed women in rural Sekhukhuneland earning nothing. It is very difficult to govern in such an unequal country. It is very difficult to find common ground. But it is in our collective interests to find solutions to our problems through dialogue and change, rather than violence.

Our historic task is to transcend the success of the democratic transition and build a society in which all can have opportunity, in which the state is capable and effective, in which people are able to find work, in which the poorest children get quality education and in which business can thrive. When President Zuma stated in the SONA that "it (the National Development Plan) is a roadmap to a South Africa where all will have water, electricity, sanitation, jobs, housing, public transport, adequate nutrition, education, social protection, quality healthcare, recreation and a clean environment." It was to the promise of the Constitution that he was referring.

Now we might want to pause and reflect on the imagery of a roadmap. We all have experience of a roadmap folded in the cubbyhole of a car, and when it appears that the driver is about to get lost, the map cannot be easily unfolded and there is usually a huge debate about which direction the vehicle is actually facing. That cannot be the type of roadmap that President Zuma was referring to. Trust me on this one – he was referring to a dynamic interactive process, more like the GPS in our vehicles that will shout at us when we veer off course. And, it is not just the destination of fairer and prosperous society that is important. The route we take, the processes we follow are equally important because uniting our country is an essential element of achieving the destination.

What is important in our context is to look back at the journey that we have travelled since we adopted our Constitution 17 years ago and to calculate the distance to reach the kind of society it describes for our country. Then we can agree again, with Duncan Green when he writes, "People living in poverty must take or create power over their own lives and destinies. To develop, countries need educated, informed and healthy citizens and a state both willing and able to provide the essential services on which their well-being depends. The state must also ensure that both the quality and quantity of economic growth meets developmental needs."[1]

Honourable members, it is important that we be conscious of the need to focus both on the quality and quantity of growth. Occasionally, one hears in the corridors a viewpoint that suggests that the country can raise the living standards of the poorest without economic growth. We should recognise that rapid growth of GDP is essential to attain the objective of raising living standards. No country has succeeded at raising living standards without rapid growth, and we are unlikely to be the first to attain this feat.

It is for this reason that the NDP presents itself as a composite of a whole range of policies. It is not possible to look at the NDP as focussing on social policy and/or nation building and pretend that the drivers of the economy exist in some other place. All chapters of the Plan must be addressed for implementation simultaneously.

So as we begin to address the implementation of the Plan, our early choices have to be about those, "essential services on which their well-being depends." But we need a new urgency in this new phase of democracy. This new phase of implementation requires an urgency and focus that is different from anything we have had so far. This new phase requires different mind-sets, harder work, greater commitment to democracy and accountability and most importantly, a higher purpose to serve all the people of South Africa.

We need to choose what we can and must do first. For this reason, I want to ask that you support the urgent need to transform the state from what it is into one that is developmental in its orientation and capable of providing the services that will transform the lives of our people.

A capable and developmental state cannot operate in isolation. It must work in unison with strong leadership throughout society and an active citizenry supporting development and holding their government accountable. In setting out steps to shift the orientation of the state, I want to ask that we give urgent consideration to a few important actions. Amongst these must be the need to change the incentive structure for those of us in public office; to strengthen the accountability chain.

Firstly, we must raise the consequences for those who do not perform the functions required of them – if teachers get paid, even when they have not taught our children, there should be consequences. When health-workers make lots of money in the private sector while they are in the employ of the state, where they then report for duty only to rest, there should be consequences. When policemen and women avoid being involved in crime prevention, there should be consequences. And when public servants do business with their employer, there should be serious consequences. If we want development, we must recognise that we must lead the behavioural change through our own actions and through legislation.

Secondly, we have a responsibility to re-train and re-orient the public service. We need a very different skillset, one that is focused on evidence-based decisions. If we want to use evidence then we must train public servants to actually use available evidence, or ensure that the datasets are generated.

Thirdly, the Plan points out that the present interface between members of the Executive and senior public servants often results in both instability and blurred accountability that leads to poor performance. Honourable Speaker, it is in the best interests of all South Africans and Members here, irrespective of political persuasion, must be in the vanguard of that endeavour to build a professional and capable public service. The Plan asks Parliament to look at the compatibility of the Public Finance Management Act and the Public Service Act with the view of clarifying the accountability chain. The Plan recommends the creation of an administrative head of the public service. We call on Parliament to review the Public Service Act to address these concerns.

Fourthly, the Commission has recommended changes to improve the functioning of the intergovernmental system. This includes clarifying roles and responsibility for municipal planning, urban transport systems and the suite of activities relating to the built environment, namely housing, water and sanitation. The Commission also recommended greater differentiation in the allocation of powers and functions, based on competency; a proposal that we believe is consistent with the Constitution. Simplifying the delivery chain and enhancing our intergovernmental system will both strengthen accountability and improve service delivery. Again, we appeal to Parliament to address these matters in the course of this year.

Fifthly, the Commission recommends that the public interest mandates of state-owned enterprises be made explicit and public. Furthermore, there are several areas where clarity is required on the roles of regulators, policy ministries, shareholder ministries and boards. This is an area where Parliament can take the lead in reviewing legislation to achieve tighter accountability and better outcomes consistent with the Plan.

The Plan makes several proposals to fight corruption in society. These proposals focus on enforcement, prevention and educating society. There are also detailed recommendations to improve value for money in our procurement system. We must recognise that supply chain management is the Achilles heel of our democracy. So much of what goes wrong, whether these wrongs masquerade as intra-party factions or whether it is just the reality that a segment of society has wealth whose origins these individuals cannot explain, all of these wrongs are traceable back to the fissures in our supply chain management system. Parliament can no longer ignore the seriousness of this issue.

I want to reiterate the importance of the role and position of this august House in the context of ensuring that we have a state that is both developmental and capable. The first step in improving the state is to strengthen the accountability chain. Honourable Speaker, that starts here in this house. A constitutional democracy has, at its apex, an elected Parliament that holds the Executive to account. I don`t know how many people have read the full executive summary of the plan but it has some harsh words for this institution. I quote, "Accountability is essential to democracy. The accountability chain has to be strengthened from top to bottom. To begin with, parliamentary accountability is weak, with Parliament failing to fulfil its most basic oversight role."

It is crucial that society is able to look to the skills and competencies of Parliament to safeguard their interests. Good technical skills of parliamentarians backed by solid research teams are critical to stronger parliamentary oversight.

The second priority is to use the outcomes approach launched by the President three years ago to build tighter accountability chains for each area of government. A ruthless focus on implementation requires detailed implementation plans across government. So as an example, if the Department of Justice has a policy to reintroduce sexual offences courts, then it is incumbent upon you to ask the following questions:

  • What lessons were learnt from the last attempt to introduce such courts?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What special training will be given to court orderlies in these courts?
  • How will it be rolled out, where will these courts be located and why?
  • Will these courts be integrated into welfare services?
  • Will there be appropriate facilities for women or children to testify in private?
  • How do we know that these courts will not cherry pick the easy cases?

No change occurs if we merely think about it, or even agree on the policy parameters. A huge behavioural change that must occur is a shift to detailed discussions about implementation. Who does what? By when? At what cost? And how will we know that a difference is being made? These should be the questions that are repeatedly heard both in departments and Parliament alike. Without attention to such basic issues that relate to implementation metrics, we will never be able to determine who should be held accountable for delivery or implementation failures. As we said earlier, this new phase of implementation requires an urgency and focus that is different from anything we have had so far.

The other side of a dynamic and active democracy is how the state and public representatives engage with the people we serve, and in whose interests we take decisions, and write laws. The Plan underlines the importance of community-based organisations, trade unions and other organised formations of civil society to become active in the development of their communities and the country. Many of our problems, from poor quality education to violent crime, can only be solved through organised communities acting in partnership with a capable and developmental state.

Schools are often a reflection of the community. Well-organised communities can help a school achieve its objectives. But well-organised communities can also hold their school to account if results slip below the expected standard or if teachers do not teach at least six hours a day. There has been a worrying decline in sport in many black communities. The excuse cited often relates to facilities. This cannot be true. The availability of facilities may be poor but it is better than in decades past, yet many of our communities can only reminisce about days gone by when young people played football, netball or participated in athletics. The state cannot organise these activities; they require communities to become organised.

Too often, we hear people only when they are truly frustrated by our lack of action. We can and must change this – we must do so because of a fundamental belief that people are their own liberators and, as we quoted earlier, "must take or create power over their own lives and destinies." I recognise that it may not be appropriate for the state to organise the voice of the people, but we cannot have a democracy; or indeed, attach meaning to the idea of a developmental and capable state, unless there is an organised voice that support for or points out the failings of the system of development. I want to reiterate that united action by government and the people of our country is exceedingly important for the attainment of the society that the Constitution promises. Our goals are the same.

None of what I have raised should come as a surprise to Honourable Members. Perhaps, by emphasis I have reached into the deep recesses of memory in order to remind every member of who we are, and what our purpose is as representatives of our people.

Part of what we need is a belief in what is possible, and to act to convene even when cracks present themselves in society. Last week, Deputy President Motlanthe and a number of Ministers met with farmers and farmworkers here in the Western Cape to ensure that all parties to the dispute that claimed lives and property were heard. If the measure of success is in the ability of these contending parties to now talk to each other and raise their respective difficulties, much would have been achieved. In his address last Thursday, President Zuma took us into confidence on the meeting he held with Sir John Parker, the chairman of Anglo American Plc. on their decision to retrench 14 500 workers. That process will have to be taken forward with Amplats, the affected unions and the Department of Mineral Resources. These are examples of leadership demonstrated by the Presidency. We should know that our people respond positively to leadership, and frequently see this as a signal for them to become directly involved in problem solving. We will all accept that such leadership must involve taking some unpopular decisions from time to time – given the scale of our challenges, it could not be any different.

Our commitment must be to build the change that matters in the lives of our people. This is what the implementation of the National Development Plan is about. It calls on us to be far more conscious of what we seek to achieve. It allows us to initiate change across a fairly broad front of activities. It recognises that governments, through their departments will ultimately remain responsible and accountable for the transformation. It rekindles the role for Parliament in a dynamic democracy.

There are many areas that are not covered by the NDP and many more where detailed work is required. This work must be done in a collaborative manner across society. The solution to many of our challenges lies in being able to listen to each other`s concerns and plot a way forward taking into account each other`s concerns. Social dialogue is not about negotiations. Negotiations are often characterised by agreeing to the barest minimum or stooping to the lowest common denominator. Social dialogue is about finding acceptable solutions to our country`s complex challenges; be they in the mining sector or the farming sector.

We need to lower the volume, put the rhetoric aside and be prepared to listen and to be persuaded. Without such a spirit, we will not heal our fractured land. Yes, it is difficult to govern is such an unequal society, with strong vested interests. But that is our challenge; to mobilise all of our people and social forces to work in partnership with their government for a society that is more fair and prosperous.

The task of implementation has begun.

I would like to end with the imploring words of the poet Nontsizi Mgqwetho, when she says,

"Masizake"! Lento imbongi zinoc`uku
Kunokuyeka, ukozo lungadli nkuku
Sizwe sini esi singehlisi butongo
Sigqibe Izwe lonke ngamax`obongo

Or for the unitiated

Let`s build for each other! Poets often see past this
Despite all that, there is no let up here
What nation is this that leaves its citizens losing sleep?
The whole nation rots in hovels!
Let us build!

Thank you.

[1] "from Poverty to Power" Duncan Green, p104