Budget Debate - Office Of The Premier (Vote 1)

 

By Dr BT Buthelezi MPL
Leader Of The Official Opposition
 

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: 8 April 2010

 

Honourable Speaker

 

As the Hon. Premier's counterpart on the opposition benches, on this occasion and always in the future, I will debate this particular portion of the budget - that is Vote 1 - on two levels. On one level, there is the budget allocated to the Office of the Premier, on another there is the broader context of the provincial budget. We in the Official Opposition believe that the Hon. Premier bears the ultimate political responsibility for both.

 

At the outset I wish to congratulate the Hon. Premier and his department for promoting KwaZulu-Natal as a home base for as many as five participating countries in the upcoming FIFA Soccer World Cup. After Gauteng we will be second province with the highest number of countries to reside here throughout the tournament and I am sure this will be a good opportunity to establish closer cultural as well as commercial links with these nations.

 

At the same time, I would like to voice the feelings of the Finance committee which is seeking clarity regarding the public funds this province will be contributing towards this venture.

 

As I pointed out during our response to the Hon. Premier's first post-election budget last year, the ultimate challenge of the Office of the Premier and the Hon. Premier, who is its public face, is to provide leadership in the province where fiscal discipline and frugality were deliberately neglected in the past.

 

I have only to reiterate now that we expect nothing less from the Hon.

Premier than to lead by example. In some ways, the Hon. Premier has already done so and we are ready to credit his department with the partial success in containing KwaZulu-Natal's budget deficit by way of the cabinet-approved Provincial Recovery Plan.

 

We now expect the Office of the Premier to ensure that the cost-cutting measures which form part of this plan outlive the current fiscal crisis and become a benchmark for better and cleaner governance in this province.

 

In order to lead an efficient, honest and accountable government, the Office of the Premier must be the epitome of efficiency, clean governance and accountability. After all, the Premier, according to the strategic objectives of his department, aspires to co-ordinate and facilitate not only the developmental aspects of government but also those aspects that extend to the moral dimension of governance.

 

In particular, we hope the new centrally-managed communications model - lauded by the KwaZulu-Natal government as an important part of the Provincial Recovery Plan - will from now on translate into tangible restraint when the entire provincial government spends on communication with the public and self-promotion.

 

We echo the sentiments of the wider public when we express our hope that the extravagant expenditure on advertising, departmental catering and travel and subsistence in this department as well as all across the provincial government is now a thing of the past.

 

Honourable Speaker, we also urge genuine commitment to public participation, not cynical politicking at taxpayers' expense as we came to know it in KwaZulu-Natal courtesy of the previous ANC-led government. We hope that in doing so the Hon. Premier will use his izimbizo and public meetings to enlist real concerns of the people on the ground, not to blatantly garner votes for whatever election follows next.

 

In this regard, I would like to appeal to the Hon. Premier's declared commitment to inter-governmental best practice and draw his attention to initiatives such as the Premier's Intervention Unit in the Free State which is responsible for the Presidential Hotline in that province. The Free State Premier's Intervention Unit is responsible for dealing with corruption and practical interventions in projects of the entire provincial government which may be in need of specific assistance from the Premier's Office.

 

This Intervention unit mirrors the Service Delivery unit that has been created in the Presidency at national level. In essence, the Intervention unit is designed to identify and, more importantly, resolve bottlenecks and develop practical and easy programmes for individual government departments to continue implementing speedy service delivery.

 

I would like to take this suggestion further by proposing to consolidate all existing hotlines in our province into one hotline that will be managed through a call centre located in the Office of the Premier. The efficiency with which we would be able to respond to citizens' issues lodged through the individual hotlines would rest on the co-operation we would receive from other provincial departments as well as local and district municipalities. This, in our books, is co-operative governance in action.

 

Honourable Speaker, as we continue to play our oversight role in and outside of this House, we will make sure that government as a whole focuses with equal attention on the priority areas outlined in this year's State of the Province addresses, namely:

  • education

  • health

  • the fight against crime and corruption

  • the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods.

  • rural development, food security and land reform.

  • local government and human settlements and

  • infrastructure development

Honourable Speaker, as indicated during the State of the Province Address, the Hon. Premier has placed due emphasis on the work of the provincial AIDS Council. To us on the opposition benches, this implies that the Premier should ensure that the provincial AIDS Council meets regularly as planned and develops appropriate interventions and campaigns in order to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS. We are particularly concerned about the high infection rates in KwaZulu-Natal's urban areas that comprise Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

 

In addition to monitoring the service delivery outcomes of the Office of the Premier, we are determined to oversee the quality of this office's management of its priorities in as far as these extend to other government departments. We hope that the Office of the Premier will continue to work closely with both the office of the Auditor-General and Provincial Treasury in order to strengthen the financial management capability of individual departments.

 

The need to strengthen the Risk Management units and the Internal Audit units in several government departments has been identified and must be addressed during the forthcoming financial year. In order to work more efficiently and effectively, a joint audit committee could be considered for establishment between the Office of the Premier and the Provincial Treasury.

 

With a few exceptions that relate to items of expenditure such as those that relate to the public participation programmes of this Legislature, the IFP has broadly welcomed this year's provincial budget with its commitment to curbing runaway expenditure. But we fear that it may, like the previous budgets that led to multi-billion rand deficit, flounder on the ground if mismanagement and corruption in government are not addressed decisively and conclusively.

 

From what we have seen so far and judging this administration against the backdrop of its immediate predecessor, I am relieved that we have not seen a repeat of the anarchy in the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs or the total absence of political leadership that led to the massive overspending in the Department of Health during the previous term.

 

The Office of the Premier will continue to enjoy our support and respect if it gives further encouragement to the leadership, common sense and restraint demonstrated particularly by the Hon. MEC for Health in his department and if the example set by the Department of Health filters down to reach the entire provincial government.

 

With these comments, Honourable Speaker, I wish to declare my party's support for the current budget for Vote 1 and I thank you.

 

Contact: Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi, 082 516 0156.