Debate on Vote No 1: Presidency
Contribution by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party

 

National Assembly: Cape Town, 14th June 2011   

Honourable Speaker;

 

On the 15th of February I stood before this House during the President's State of the Nation debate and spoke some unpalatable truths, which begged the question whether our country's leadership can be trusted with the responsibility of nurturing democracy. Since then, the local government election results and the coalition in KwaZulu Natal have resonated my concerns and underlined the veracity of what I said.

 

The question of trust has arisen again. It is necessary that I raise this point as the President delivers his third Budget Vote, because we are engaging a debate over money and leadership. The efficient financial operation of the Presidency sets the tone for all government departments, and the allocation of the Presidency's budget sets the course.

 

It is unavoidable that, in the budget of the President, we become seized with questioning what value the country receives for the money it invests in this appropriation. The President per se does not have an operating department, but a supervisory one, which carries the ultimate responsibility of providing the policy leadership, motivation and inspiration for the work of all other ministers and departments. Therefore, we must assess how well the Presidency has exercised its leadership role in the past two years.

 

We should have noticed enormous progress, almost achieved in leaps and bounds, as compared to the previous administration. But this does not seem to be the case. Since the time of the previous administration, the Presidency has been strengthened with two full Cabinet Ministers with the functions of planning our future and overseeing compliance with current policies respectively.

 

The Minister in the Presidency with the function of National Planning and the Minister in the Presidency with the function of Performance Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration should have enabled the Presidency as a whole to be much more effective, capable and experienced. But that does not seem to be the case. There are no signs of such progress.

 

The only thing that is clear is that the budget for the Presidency has increased enormously. It is also clear that other departments of State are exercising an ever increasing role of leadership within the affairs of the Republic, especially the Treasury and National Intelligence. It was already the case when I was the Minister of Home Affairs under President Mandela and President Mbeki that no Cabinet Memorandum would get beyond committee level to reach the full Cabinet if opposed by the Treasury or National Intelligence. It appears this trend has intensified at the expense of the leadership role to be exercised by the Presidency.

 

Considering the size of the Presidency and the significance of its efficiency or lack thereof, the IFP believes the same measure of oversight should apply to the Presidency as applies to other departments. We therefore propose a parliamentary portfolio committee to oversee the Presidency, which would ensure not only accountability and transparency, but assurance to South Africans that their leadership does not operate with unfettered autonomy.

 

I believe this is important, for there is an increasing perception in the public debate that the law has a limited reach, in direction relation to political connectedness. The level of corruption and wastage in the public service impacts public trust. We cannot sweep under the carpet the Special Investigating Unit's estimate that some R30 billion of state procurement expenditure is lost each year to overpayment and theft.

 

We cannot afford for South Africans to doubt their leaders' integrity, any more than we can afford a lack of integrity in our leadership. Our people, living in the conditions they do, must believe that their President has their best interests at heart.

 

This is brought into stark relief as we consider this Budget Vote. Looking at what the Presidency achieved with last year's allocation and what it intends to achieve this year, one cannot help but fear that what we have accomplished is insignificant compared to the vast needs of our country.

 

In saying this, I do not seek to belittle the achievements of the Presidency, nor the Presidency's intentions. I applaud our country's Executive where applause is due.

 

The Diagnostic Overview, for instance, positioned as it is in the Presidency, holds the potential to arrest the bureaucratic practice of making excuses and passing the buck. This is particularly welcome considering the "signs of decline" contained in the Overview. The Overview is also promising in that it directs the focus to two issues; education and unemployment, rather than covering the plethora of issues at hand. This expresses a more realistic approach.

 

But it also highlights the challenge before the President of providing leadership, both within the country and within his Party. It is argued that the greatest obstacle to tackling the two highlighted priorities of education and unemployment is resistance from within the ruling Party.

 

In both instances, a firmer hand is required with trade unions and it is unlikely that the ANC's alliance partners and the President's allies will take kindly to this development. The tripartite alliance has been shaken repeatedly under President Zuma's administration and it will take a courageous leadership to risk shaking it again.

 

But, as I said on the 15th of February, our President cannot take several courses of action which are in conflict with one another in the hope of pleasing everyone. Integrity comes at a very dear political and personal cost. It requires taking a course of action which inevitably pleases some and displeases others. But failing to take bold leadership decisions will paralyse South Africa into inaction.

 

We cannot afford to take a decade to do what must be done in a matter of months. We can also not set unrealistic targets and raise our people's expectations beyond what can be met. This is playing irresponsibly with our national psyche. Again, it is a question of accountability.

 

Since 1994, a lack of accountability has been a stumbling block to development and progress. It is therefore unacceptable that the Executive is often unavailable to respond to Members' Statements in this House because the Minister responsible for monitoring and evaluation is absent. Similarly, written questions demand a response that is often not forthcoming.

 

There is still a sense, coming from the top, that government is not answerable to the citizenry. The ongoing financial fiasco of the National Youth Development Agency is a case in point. Has the burning question of why R100 million was spent on a youth festival ever been answered, either adequately or at all? The many unresolved complaints received through the Presidential Hotline suggest that answers are not a priority.

 

This brings the debate back to the leadership challenge facing the President. There are undoubtedly contradictions between what the ruling Party wants and what the development of the State requires. How the Presidency makes good on the promises contained in this budget will, to some extent, answer the question whether our country's leadership can be trusted with our fragile democracy.

 

It is an answer we deserve to get.