Response To The State Of Province Address
by Dr LPHM Mtshali MPL

   

Kwazulu-Natal Legislature, Pietermaritzburg: 25 February 2010

 

Honourable Speaker,

 

We in the Official Opposition were surprised to be treated to the usual extravaganza associated with the Opening of Parliament on Royal Showgrounds, this time against the backdrop of the most precarious financial position KwaZulu-Natal has ever faced throughout its history and the virtual bankruptcy of the Msunduzi Council which has been happily running into debt in the City of Choice right on the government’s doorstep.

 

With some R165-million in the red at the end of the first half of the current financial year, the Msunduzi municipality until recently aspired to become a metro and operate on a more diversified budget when it was clearly unable to manage its cash flows. The residents of Pietermaritzburg whose municipal services may soon come to a halt will be pleased that the cash-strapped council found money to bus the public to witness the annual Opening of Parliament.

 

The Hon. MEC for Co-operative Governance is currently intervening in three IFP-run municipalities in terms of section 139.1(b) of the Constitution. We would not like to deprive this provincial government of the opportunity of putting things right in the Msunduzi municipality by intervening in a similar manner in the chaos that has become of the once clean, well-run and prosperous city of Pietermaritzburg.

 

In his State of the Province Address, the Hon. Premier has once again put the blame for KwaZulu-Natal’s precarious financial position on the global economic recession without acknowledging that it is partly the result of gross overspending by the previous ANC government in which he served as the MEC for Finance.

 

The multi-billion rand overdraft, which is costing this province millions to service every month, is only being addressed belatedly and slowly. Plainly, the overdraft has created a host of additional macroeconomic burdens for KwaZulu-Natal in addition to the global economic meltdown.

 

Whereas some of the over-expenditure has been unavoidable as a result of unfunded mandates such as the Occupation Specific Dispensation for certain healthcare professionals, we in the Official Opposition contend that a large proportion of past overspending can be traced back to wasteful expenditure on self-promotion, advertising and unnecessary luxuries.

 

Honourable, Speaker, for many years the ANC government behaved as if money was no object. Unless this phenomenon is acknowledged and acted against on an individual rather than collective basis, the incumbent government will find it hard to reform the underlying culture of extravagance and excess. If the two latest opulent ministerial izimbizo organized by the Department of Co-operative Governance in Inkaka and Okhahlamba are anything to go by, the Hon. Premier’s commitment to cost-cutting on his government’s self-promotion rings hollow.

 

We in the Official Opposition nevertheless appreciate the Hon. Premier’s foray into KwaZulu-Natal’s employment statistics. We can only add that the consecutive Labour Force Surveys have demonstrated that the ANC has failed dismally in their promise to create 500 000 new job opportunities by the end of last year. We now know that during the whole of 2009, the South African economy has actually shed 870 000 jobs, a massive proportion of them in KwaZulu-Natal.

 

The Hon. Premier said very little about his government’s concrete plans to attract and retain investment in KwaZulu-Natal. There was no mention of the possibility to review the regulatory environment and the cost of doing business in our province or cutting red tape in the near future to encourage more companies to relocate and do business in KwaZulu-Natal. A concerted effort to attract investment by way of incentives would have proved a more reliable form of sustainable job creation at a lesser cost to the government than the Expanded Public Works Programme.

 

We would like to congratulate the government on its efforts in getting province ready to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The new infrastructure is impressive and we hope it will serve the residents of our province in good order long after the last visitor to the soccer tournament has left KwaZulu-Natal. We also hope that some developments such as the arterial road leading into the Durban CBD mark only the beginning of an improved road network in the future.

 

On the subject of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, we are confident that KwaZulu-Natal will be able to pull off a world class event. In this regard, we must not only ensure that the international sporting event exceeds everyone’s expectations, but that its tangible benefits cascade down to the disadvantaged communities. Unless the tournament has a lasting impact on our province and its economy, we will have wasted all the money and effort that has gone into making it happen.

 

We share the Hon. Premier’s enthusiasm for agricultural projects in general and co-operatives in particular. We also welcome the government’s invitation issued to his Majesty the King and our traditional leaders to participate in these ventures. We have consistently championed entrepreneurship and self-sustainable income-generating projects that give people the opportunity to break the cycle of dependency on the state.

 

The government-sponsored agricultural projects that are in the pipeline can live up to this expectation if they are managed properly. We sincerely hope that the disastrous management of such projects by the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs during the terms of the previous ANC government is a thing of the past.

 

Agriculture brings in a substantial percentage of KwaZulu-Natal’s export revenue and employs hundreds of thousands of people. It is absolutely vital to maximising economic growth and creating jobs in our province and yet, in many ways, its potential remains untapped. The government must maximise its support for agricultural production through research and financial assistance to farmers, both established and emerging, and help them access domestic and international markets. To encourage more people to take up farming, we must offer more training and financial support to students who study agriculture. This sector is of fundamental importance to the welfare of our people.

 

The Department of the Premier and the provincial Treasury have been functioning without a Head of Department for a very long time. We are pleased to know that these positions will soon be filled and the respective departments will be able to deliver on their responsibilities in line with their mandates. We also hope that the moratorium on the filling of posts will not hamper the recruitment of professionals to positions that are at the forefront of service delivery. One category where we would like to make a special plea to the government is subject advisors for those subjects that fared worst in last year’s matric exams.

 

The IFP has been disappointed not to hear anything specific or credible about speeding up the many outstanding forensic investigations into fraud and corruption, addressing internal inefficiencies within government departments, particularly where procurement of goods and services is concerned, or inhibiting the scope for enrichment from public funds by government officials who more often than not happen to be political party deployees.

 

Yes, the Hon. Premier has once again reiterated his government’s commitment to eradicating corruption. But, yet again, he has neglected to tell us how. We in the Official Opposition are proposing to boost the capacity of the existing forensic investigation units by bringing in more experienced investigators to handle the case-load. We propose to support both the existing and new investigators by continuous training, outsourcing and provision of equipment. Public money earmarked for this purpose would be money well spent.

 

Specific commitments, targets and deadlines for these areas of paramount public concern would have provided a much needed set of new ideas and innovative solutions which the Hon. Premier’s 2010 State of the Province Address so acutely lacked.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Dr Lionel Mtshali, 078 302 0929