Response To The Premier’s Medium-Term Performance Report
By MB Gwala MPL
Leader Of The Official Opposition, KZN Legislature


Pietermaritzburg: Tuesday, 6 December 2011

 

Honourable Speaker

 

On behalf of the Official Opposition, I would like to join the Honourable Premier in extending our appreciation to his Office and the entire provincial government for honouring this year with appropriate celebrations for His Majesty the King on the 40th anniversary of his accession to the throne and our Indian community on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indian labourers to South Africa. We are indeed proud to have taken part in these celebrations.

 

I also congratulate the Honourable Premier on the recent cabinet reshuffle. This House will recall that the Official Opposition has been calling for one since last year and it appears that we have even correctly identified the individuals in the previous Executive Council who failed to perform as MECs and needed to be replaced. The cabinet reshuffle was long overdue but, as they say, better late than never. While it is refreshing to see new people joining the executive, we are concerned about some failed MECs being simply redeployed to other departments where they are responsible for even bigger service delivery agendas with much larger budgets. It is a pity that in these instances, political considerations have outweighed the need for accountability and competence one would expect from members of the provincial executive.

 

In his address on the occasion of the tabling of the Medium-Term Performance Report, the Honourable Premier listed a number of achievements by his administration since taking office in April 2009. However, on the subject of two immediate challenges facing our province, the Honourable Premier said very little of substance:

  1. Despite many repeated promises to help create jobs, the provincial government’s record on job creation is virtually non-existent unless one considers the continued growth in the public sector employment.

  2. And despite much focus on the numerous challenges facing our public healthcare, the persistent management challenges in the Department of Health continue to suggest that KwaZulu-Natal is largely unprepared to start implementing the National Health Insurance during the next financial year.

In March this year the Official Opposition, when this year’s provincial budget was presented in this House, we welcomed its declared focus on job creation. Yet, at the same, time we expressed our reservations about the credibility - and indeed practicality - of the job creation agenda that had failed to create sustainable jobs in the past.

 

What the employment policies of this government produced in the past were scores of seasonal EPWP recruits, Community Development Workers, Extension Officers and, most recently, Youth Ambassadors. These are not real, sustainable jobs. These are mere short-term employment opportunities where little measurable transfer of skills takes place.

 

In the absence of a credible job creation agenda, we presented alternative policy proposals to boost job creation against the backdrop of a fragile economic recovery in KwaZulu-Natal. Our policy on job creation is straightforward. We acknowledge the reality that government cannot create new jobs. Only growing businesses can create jobs. Government's role is to create an environment that attracts investors, encourages innovation, supports initiative and creates opportunities. In such an environment, growing businesses hire new employees, train them and empower them to fulfil their potential.

 

Our proposals, outlined in our Alternative Budget Framework for KwaZulu-Natal, therefore included meaningful incentives to entrepreneurs and small and medium businesses who are the only real and sustainable job creators in our economy by way of a wage subsidy for every new job created. We also advocated cutting red tape for setting up new businesses, marketing KwaZulu-Natal as South Africa’s province of choice to do business in and improving the efficacy of our public entities, many of which have been set up to create jobs but have so far created precious few.

 

In addition to measures aimed at stimulating job creation, we proposed future-focused investments in education, health and public infrastructure, not mere emergency measures to plug the gaping holes in these key areas of service delivery. For the sake of the people of this province, we were hoping for bold action and the political will to tackle the challenges KwaZulu-Natal is facing with workable and sustainable solutions. And of these, unfortunately, we have seen very few.

 

The ruling party announced with great pomp its intention to implement, in phases, the National Health Insurance from the next financial year onwards. This is arguably the most ambitious, the most expensive and the most extensive public policy initiative our country has seen since 1994. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health will have a significant role to play in the implementation of this plan as it prepares to offer its healthcare services to NHI patients throughout its facilities.

 

The Honourable Premier’s Medium Term Performance Report made no mention of this important policy initiative. Wouldn’t it therefore be right for the Honourable Premier to outline the implications of NHI for KwaZulu-Natal as well as his government’s plans to implement this programme now when one of his key service delivery departments is already preparing to do so? We believe this question deserves an answer in light of the numerous management challenges and spending pressures the provincial Department of Health is having to contend with at present.

 

The Honourable Premier has reiterated his commitment to a clean government and this we all duly appreciate. We have long argued that corruption is nothing less than stealing from the poor, those most in need of the state's assistance. It saps confidence and drives away investment. Corruption makes poor people poorer. And service delivery failure as a result of corruption is a waste of good money and a breach of public trust.

 

On a more practical level, we also appreciate all the effort on the part of the Office of the Premier with its dedicated Integrity Unit and Provincial Treasury that has gone into ensuring that cases of corruption can be better detected, investigated and prosecuted. While it appears that more disciplinary cases are being conducted against offenders in the public service, we need to see more convictions to create an effective deterrent to discourage corrupt behaviour.

 

We also hope that, in time, concrete measures will be taken to blacklist contractors who violate terms of their contracts with government and that public servants will eventually be prevented from doing business with government – even though the ruling party appears to be succumbing to vested interests of its many tenderpreneurs for the time being.

 

While clean government is essential, it is not enough. Government must also spend taxpayers' money effectively and make a measurable difference to peoples' lives. We encourage the Honourable Premier to insist, as head of the provincial administration, on quantifying every outcome his government intends to achieve. The provincial government needs to link each output captured in its Annual Performance Plans to its outcome indicators to ensure coherence between what individual departments do and what they aim to achieve.

 

On a related note, we urge the Honourable Premier to champion more comprehensive measures to assess performance across the provincial government. The current performance contracts are an arbitrary tool and, in any case, they are being largely ignored by those who are supposed to sign and monitor them. Productivity is a key element in achieving effective governance and at present we have few reliable indicators to provide us with an objective picture of performance in the provincial government.

 

We also welcome the overall decrease in the number of critical vacancies across the provincial government as indit, but we urge the Honourable Premier and the relevant MECs to focus on the filling of critical posts, especially in the Department of Health and at Provincial Treasury. A great deal of success in achieving clean governance and service delivery depends on the provincial government’s capacity to execute its mandate and it is clear that many of the current challenges and goals cannot be tackled without the requisite skills.

 

We urge the Honourable Premier who is also Provincial Chairperson of the ANC to silence what he must know is a reckless and damaging debate within his political party on nationalisation and expropriation without compensation. We appeal to the Office of the Premier and Provincial Treasury to do more to contain the massive leakage from the public financial system.

 

And finally, we call on the entire provincial executive to work on and present to this House in its future budgets a workable plan on how our public spending patterns can be changed from the current expenditure geared towards mere consumption to more productive and future-focused spending on skills development and infrastructure.

 

Honourable Speaker, as I conclude I wish to make it clear that the Official Opposition in this House is not opposing the provincial government for the sake of opposition. We are opposing failed policies of this government, chief of them its failure to prepare our children for employment with marketable skills and to create sustainable employment for the millions of unemployed citizens of this province in order to help them find a way out of poverty.

 

If the Honourable Premier can show us exactly where and how his government is delivering skills, jobs and other public services his government is responsible for, we will be happy to applaud his achievements. 

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Blessed Gwala, 083 693 4600