Response To The State Of Province Address
by Dr BT Buthelezi MPL Leader Of The Official Opposition

   

Kwazulu-Natal Legislature, Pietermaritzburg: 25 February 2010

 

Honourable Speaker,

 

Discerning Members of the House will observe that the Hon. Premier’s State of the Province address assessed government’s commitments and accountability to the provincial plans that were set out when this government took office last year. The bulk of this year’s State of the Province Address was punctuated by a bland extension and continuation of ongoing government programmes, many of which predate this government and some of which have yielded no tangible results to date.

 

Those of us who were looking for new initiatives, details, data, targets and deadlines were largely disappointed. There were few fresh ideas and little innovation. It was a routine performance of a government that has been in power for more years that it cares to remember, not one that is intent on offering new hope and a fresh start.

 

We acknowledge that the Hon. Premier’s speech covered some of the major priorities around the socio-economic needs to create job opportunities, to build social and economic infrastructure (including the 2010 World Cup infrastructure), and to fast-track Expanded Public Works Programme in order to create decent if non-permanent jobs, to provide resources improve the health care system (including the National Health Insurance Scheme and management of HIV/Aids), to provide decent education and, to fight crime and corruption.

 

The IFP has been involved with its own parliamentary outreach programme since December 2009 whereby MPs and MPLs are conducting vigorous interactive sessions with communities of KwaZulu-Natal. The parliamentary outreach programme gives the people an opportunity to exercise their right to hold their public representatives to account. In our quest, we have visited and are still going to visit many areas and listen actively to what people want and expect from this government. In the process of interaction, the public has raised important issues that they want this government to address and prioritise.

 

People not only tell us that they want government to prioritise the creation of decent jobs, fighting poverty, crime and corruption, improved access to health services, clean running water, electricity and general maintenance of roads without potholes. They also want to know how these objectives can be achieved with their active participation. The feeling that I have been getting in the countryside is that our people are no longer content with the role of passive victims of the past assigned to them by politicians but wish to become active participants in society and the economy where they are now ready to shape their own destinies.

 

Having enlisted popular views and attitudes in our constituencies, we have come here to remind government of all those things that our people have asked us to consider. The Premier’s State of the Province Address touched on some of those issues, but failed to provide enough introspection or indeed direction. The immediate past Premier introduced the Citizens’ Charter but nothing much has improved in the work ethics of government officials. 

 

We agree that the success of government depends on a highly committed public service. In our parliamentary outreach programme, our people related to us shocking stories about the attitude of civil servants. We were horrified to hear how the elderly people are being neglected at pension pay points. We have heard many heart-breaking stories experienced by the patients who wait endlessly in queues without seeing a doctor. We have heard countless accounts of government officials who spend more time answering their telephones rather attending to their responsibilities.

 

Such acts of corruption, negligence and maladministration must be dealt with severely and the current inaction and backlog of unresolved disciplinary procedures does not inspire much public confidence in yet more promises laid out in the Hon. Premier’s State of the Province Address.

 

The people of KwaZulu-Natal want their government to make a commitment to do things differently. They want the provincial administration to direct its energies towards spending government purse on delivery issues, and not merely on intentions.  And in line with the need for prudent expenditure they want government to focus on cutting the cost of ‘nice-to-haves’ and prevent any wasteful expenditure.

 

The people also want government to review its engagement with the service providers and to be very strict on issues of value for money and demand high standards of performance from civil servants and from anyone who does business with government. Civil servants must take their jobs seriously and government must review over-reliance on consultants in an attempt to promote full utilization of internal capacity. Government must also address the abnormal situation for the continued usage of labour brokers in public institutions such as in the department of health. By doing this, government will bring an end to abuse and exploitation of these workers thus improving service delivery. 

 

While we welcome the Hon. Premier’s announcement that some government officials will be subjected to lifestyle audit, we believe that such a measure must include the politicians including Members of the Executive Council. It must be borne in mind that when the issue of lifestyle audit first surfaced in the media it involved a top politician and the government’s intervention must not be seen to shun the subject of much publicized controversy. 

 

Quality health care is a cornerstone of the government’s priority areas. Although the Hon. Premier gave statistics of poor health indicators including falling life expectancy, child and maternal mortality rates, he failed to qualify his remarks by acknowledging that this is a long-term result of controversial Aids policy pursued by none other than the ANC government. 

 

As Chairperson of the ANC’s Health Desk, the Hon. Premier failed to use this opportunity to discuss the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme. Similarly, during his State of the Nation Address earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma afforded the subject of the NHI a whole one sentence. We take this as a tacit admission that the perennial post-election ANC promise of universal healthcare is off the table until after the next election.

 

We expect government to engage with all stakeholders and develop a turnaround strategy to revitalize clinics and hospitals, reduce long queues and improve the availability of drugs and medical equipment.  We welcome government’s decision to invest in hospital infrastructure, starting with the construction of the iconic King Edward VIII Hospital. 

 

We have been watching closely the uneasy task of bringing down the historically highest fiscal deficit KwaZulu-Natal has ever experienced. We have particularly welcomed the R626-million reduction in over-expenditure in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health since September last year even though this reduction is below even the government’s own target. With R2.312-billion, our Department of Health still accounts for the bulk of the province’s overspending.

 

The credit for reducing the deficit in this department must go to Hon. MEC Dhlomo and the joint task team comprising the health department and the provincial Treasury. It must be remembered that the initial efforts aimed at cutting and consolidating the multi-billion rand health budget deficit, which ballooned under Hon. Dhlomo’s predecessor, yielded no savings at all.

 

The IFP, however, does not accept the argument that public health care in KwaZulu-Natal is underfunded without qualification. As long as hundreds of millions of rands in conditional grants go unspent and as long as internal inefficiencies in the Health Department’s administration persist, we cannot blame over-expenditure squarely on underfunding.

 

We welcome the Hon. Premier’s commitment to programmes such as hospital revitalisation and against persistent administrative shortcomings in the Department of Health that prevent this province from utilizing conditional grants from the national Treasury. The ongoing gross under-spending in Hospital Revitalisation and HIV and Aids Grants in particular cannot be justified given the sorry state of public health care facilities and the scale of the HIV/Aids pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal.

 

The Official Opposition urges the joint task team to refocus its efforts on addressing the internal inefficiencies in the department’s administration of public funds. While the department has managed to step up its collection of patients’ fees, the internal inefficiencies involved in the procurement of goods and services, particularly of medical supplies and the inflated cost of laboratory services, persist. The multi-billion rand budget deficit cannot be consolidated without these measures.

 

Similarly, this government cannot credibly deliver on its promised extension of HIV/Aids targets unless we make an effort to redefine the inflexible procurement rules and make way for cheaper ARVs and medicine supplies in general. The economic recession and our difficult financial position on the one hand and the growing pressure on our public health care on the other mean that we will have to do more with less. Let us therefore allow room for innovation and creativity.

 

We need a new vision for what education can do for our people in KwaZulu-Natal. We do not simply face the challenge of unemployment for school leavers, but indeed their un-employability when the economy is unable to absorb them. Our schools are not preparing the children with skills to enter the formal economy and the new technological demands of the computer age. We congratulate the government on the modest increase in last year’s matric pass rate but we feel the need to point out that this figure was a far cry from the consistent achievements in this field of the IFP-led provincial government prior to 2004.

 

Government must empower young people by way of investment in their education and training through such programmes as mentoring and skills development.  This will enable the youth to participate in matters of governance and development. The agenda of government will not succeed if the youth and their aspirations are not at the centre of this administration.

 

The global economic downturn has led to the increase in the number of unemployed youth – who in their unemployment turn to crime. Skills shortage that is necessary to fuel economic expansion remains a challenge. This is the point that the Hon. Premier missed when he hardly dealt with the most important challenge faced by the youth of our province: the issue of youth development and the status of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). Government must prioritize youth programmes in tackling the issues related to moral regeneration, self-help and self-reliance, service delivery and economic development. 

 

KwaZulu-Natal is a prime destination for local tourists and we must be ready to take on the challenge of developing our road infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. There is something perversely glib in dubbing our province the tourist destination when it was announced in SABC 2’s Morning Live programme yesterday that we have the dubious distinction of having the worst potholed road in the country – that is, the provincial road between Ingwavuma and Manguzi. We hope that the top civil servants will find time to consider such challenges instead of targeting members of the public who bring these issues to their attention.

 

In closing, I would like to wish this government good luck and pledge our continued support on issues where our own policies coincide with this government’s plans. For the sake of the people of KwaZulu-Natal, I sincerely hope that four years from now, we will be closer to achieving the goals set out in the Hon. Premier’s State of the Province Address. I have no doubt this government will make mistakes along the way but when it does, I want to assure all of you that these errors will be aired in the open in this House.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi, 082 516 0156