Response to the State of the Province Address
By Dr BT Buthelezi MPL
Leader of the Official Opposition

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: Thursday, 24 February 2011  

Honourable Speaker 

At the very outset, I wish to say that the Official Opposition acknowledges the newly re-established fiscal balance in KwaZulu-Natal after a prolonged period of crippling fiscal deficit. The credit for this must go to the Hon. MEC for Finance whose no-nonsense cost-cutting measures have slashed the multi-billion rand provincial overdraft within the originally set timeframe. This is no small feat indeed.

 Even more important is the acknowledgement by Provincial Treasury that its cost-cutting measures should live on and be taken for granted as the only way to run a government. We in the Official Opposition sincerely hope that the hard-earned fiscal balance will be maintained even in the face of unfunded mandates such as higher than budgeted for public service salary increases which we are likely to see in the wake of future public service strikes. We all know that labour unrest is now a permanent feature of our dispensation and public service strikes are an annual occurrence – a Tripartite Alliance or no alliance. 

In his address on Tuesday, the Hon. Premier echoed President Jacob Zuma’s enthusiasm about job creation and the fight against corruption but, like the President, the Premier lacked detail and substance. We are told that KwaZulu-Natal will have to contribute no fewer than 1.1 million jobs towards the latest national target of 5 million job opportunities. Have we not heard all this before? Since 1994, the ANC government has promised South Africans millions and millions of jobs which have never materialised.

These promises have been accompanied by well-meaning but ineffectual – and often even counter-productive – policies that have imposed increasing burdens on employers. Over-regulation of our job market – currently ranking among the worst in the world – may have ensured that the rights of those who are employed are protected but it has also discouraged employers from hiring new employees. In tandem with the global economic meltdown, this has led to job opportunities being irretrievably lost rather than created. The current labour legislation cannot keep pace with the ever growing number of job seekers who enter our labour market every year. Our labour laws are crying for radical reform.  

The only concrete – and credible - employment target the Hon. Premier has given us on Tuesday is the filling of all funded vacant public service posts. The provincial government has once again conceded that genuine job creation will be confined to the public sector with the private sector lagging far behind. This is an unsustainable trend. Public sector employees receive their pay from the fiscus, which, in turn, is composed of taxes accumulated from entrepreneurial activities of the private sector. If the private sector shrinks, its taxes will shrink with it.  

How much longer are we going to be able to create employment in the public service against the backdrop of a diminishing private sector? The State of the Province address provides little detail on how this government intends to make KwaZulu-Natal South Africa’s province of choice to do business in. The Premier and his government continue to pay lip service to the need for supporting SMMEs but their record attests to the contrary. 

How many sustainable SMMEs have the policies of the Department of Economic Development and its many public entities really created? A cursory glance at the past resolutions of Finance and SCOPA committees will reveal that the track record of these so-called “engines” of economic growth is worse than dismal with the majority of projects gone bankrupt and investment lost to fraud, corruption and incompetence.

The Official Opposition welcomes the renewed focus on the funding of co-operatives and other agricultural ventures in order to create jobs in a sector that enjoys a long tradition and near ideal co ?? his province. But we must warn against the many unresolved challenges in our publicly funded agricultural sector. Government-sponsored planting projects continue to be riddled with fraud and corruption as the number of ongoing investigations shows. It is hard to see how our agriculture can fulfil its potential under such circumstances. 

We note with concern that the organisational structures in the government’s fight against corruption remain largely procedural. The Hon. Premier has once again enumerated the bodies whose job is to fight corruption within and outside the government he leads. But the Hon. Premier neglected to mention that the work of these institutions remains constrained not only by a lack of capacity but, even more seriously, by a breakdown in communication and a lack of co-operation with government departments.

 While the government and the law enforcement agencies continue to accuse each other of inordinate delays in instituting disciplinary and criminal action, hundreds of disgraced civil servants continue to defraud our common purse and get away with it. It is time for government departments to tackle fraudsters in their own ranks head-on and institute disciplinary, civil and criminal proceedings against them simultaneously. The focus must be on speed and recovery of funds lost to fraud and corruption. We have yet to see if the appointment of a former Judge President Vuka Tshabalala to preside over internal disciplinary hearings will improve the government’s record in this regard.  

The government’s continued focus on the development of health, education, housing and transport infrastructure is commendable if fraud and corruption that continue to mar procurement procedures can be contained and standards of service delivery can be improved. In recent years, we have spent more and more time, effort and state funds on fixing rather than expanding newly built public infrastructure. The stories of shoddily built housing units and crumbling schools are plentiful.  

The reason for this is obvious. This government has placed more emphasis on political considerations when choosing contractors than on their qualifications, quality of their work or price. It so happens that lucrative government tenders go to politically connected individuals with little or no experience in the required field of expertise. Such contractors are also free to inflate their prices to levels that bear no resemblance to the realities of an open market. Substandard service delivery follows next and it is often similar culprits who are tasked with the mending of what should not have been broken in the first place. For the sake of service delivery, this malpractice must stop! 

We in the Official Opposition contend that it is possible to deliver public infrastructure such as roads, residential units, schools, hospitals and clinics better and cheaper provided our procurement procedures are transparent and open to genuine competition. Awarding public infrastructure tenders to truly deserving contractors who are qualified, who offer genuinely competitive prices and who do not compromise on quality will not only result in a higher standard of execution but also in increased quantity of services delivered to our communities.  

Our Department of Education, for instance, seems unaware that the still enormous backlog of classrooms it has inherited from the successive apartheid governments would be eliminated faster if these classrooms were built for less money than the department currently spends per classroom on appeasing politically-connected contractors who inflate the prices, rush off the work and get away with it because our monitoring of standards and performance allow it. If we are to meet the infrastructure development targets set out in the Hon. Premier’s speech, these are the challenges we must address first. 

The housing record of this government is even more scandalous. The reports featuring shoddy houses have been filling the newspapers for years. The ????y for Human Settlements who must take full responsibility for the procurement and management issues in her department. Gone are the days of the IFP-led provincial government in the 1990s when KwaZulu-Natal built more houses than all other provinces combined. We really need to look for causes behind this decline in productivity and take the matters such as the line-function MEC’s incompetence to its logical conclusion if we have to. 

Similar challenges pertaining to public infrastructure projects are evident in the Department of Health. There the recurring problem of unspent capital budgets is compounded by sudden resignations of managers who face disciplinary and criminal investigations. These incidents have brought infrastructure development in several major projects to a standstill causing inconvenience and incurring inflated costs. The appointment of a resident departmental engineer to address these issues is a promising step and we will be following the department’s progress in this matter closely. 

As a medical practitioner, I wish to express my general satisfaction with the pace of the rollout of antiretrovirals to HIV-positive citizens of this province. The incumbent MEC is a far cry from some of his predecessors who spent years questioning, complicating and delaying the obvious policy solutions to our HIV and Aids pandemic. In doing so, they took the fight against the pandemic back decades and compounded the challenges we face today. We commend this change of heart unreservedly. We also praise the initiative the current MEC for Health has taken in spreading the message of prevention in the government-sponsored fight against HIV and Aids and other STIs.  

We are, however, concerned that the current preoccupation with male circumcision will eclipse all other forms of prevention, some of which have been proven to be more efficient and cheaper. ANC governments have an unpleasant tendency to run wild with single-issue projects such as their one time promotion of garlic and beetroot at the expense of antiretroviral medicines and, in doing so, they miss the bigger picture. The ultimate victims of these one-sided policies are the poor who suffer from disease and rely on government for assistance. 

I would like to acknowledge the efforts mentioned in the Hon. Premier’s speech his and my party have taken to ensure that the upcoming local government elections are free and fair. In the context of KwaZulu-Natal such elections must primarily be peaceful elections free of political intolerance, intimidation and violence. We in the IFP have always been determined to play by the rules and I wish to reiterate this position today. We cherish tolerance and expect our opponents - be they from the African National Congress or the newly formed National Freedom Party - to reciprocate.  

I wish to conclude with a special announcement. In order to deepen our own oversight capacity, the Official Opposition will delegate responsibility for particular government portfolios to individuals in its own ranks within the framework of a Shadow Cabinet whose composition I will be announcing next week. From then on, each Member of the Executive Council will be shadowed by a Member of the Official Opposition to ensure that his or her performance is continuously assessed and open to public scrutiny. By embarking on this practice, we expect to achieve not only a better opposition but a better government for the sake of the people of KwaZulu-Natal. 

I thank you. 

Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi
082 516 0156