Speech by Minister of Human Settlements, Tokyo Sexwale to the Human Settlements Social Contract Plenary Session, Boksburg
26 Nov 2009
It is almost five years since we last met in this form as vital stakeholders in the social contract partnership.
From the onset, it is necessary to answer the question: in what kind of macro socio, political and economic environment are we converging today to have this critical conversation, since the initial social contract was crafted?
Globally, the world economy has been in a downturn due to the credit crunch for quite some time. Although some leading nations are experiencing an upturn, many developing nations will remain in economic intensive care for quite some time.
Here at home, the recent recession has resulted in:
* decreased economic activity
* depressed incomes overall
* demobilised around a million people out of productive work.
Although the recession is now officially and technically over, it is important for everyone to understand that this does not mean the South African economy is out of the woods. We are still nowhere near our target of six percent growth rate per annum by the year 2000. Therefore, the road to real economic recovery is going to be one long haul, and South Africans will still need to tone down their service delivery expectations.
The country's negative economic performance has resulted in decreased revenues for the national fiscus. This has had a serious impact upon government budget allocations for all three spheres of government.
At the level of national government departments, the division of revenue has seen a decline in allocations, and going forward the situation is not going to improve significantly. This has serious consequences for those departments associated with service delivery programmes.
At a political level, as we meet today, there is a new administration, headed by President Jacob Zuma, who has introduced new ministries and in the case of Housing, has expanded this portfolio into what is now known as the Ministry or Department of Human Settlements.
At a socio-economic level, in relation to human settlements, we are confronted by a grotesque form of urbanisation, with an alarming increase of informal settlements which can turn into a potential human calamity. To date, there are more than 2 800 of such settlements across the country, where people live in abject poverty where we have experienced some recent violent service delivery protests. The conditions there are inhuman. Our task is to humanise these settlements hence the name Human Settlements.
The concept of Human Settlements has its roots in the United Nations global Habitat summit which was held in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976. It gained ground in South Africa during the United Nations conference the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 and was taken further at the 52nd National Conference of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), in Polokwane in 2007.
Importantly, in both his State of the Nation address in Parliament and in his own Budget Vote June this year, the President put a stamp of approval on the concept with the establishment of the new Human Settlements Ministry.
He said: Housing is not just about building houses. It is also about transforming our residential areas and building communities with closer access to work and social amenities, including sports and recreation facilities.
This Human Settlements Social Contract plenary session comes at a vital time, so that during our discussions we can share, interrogate and enhance that vision. The overall task of human settlements is about housing for all South Africans. Our ministry or department takes responsibility for rural housing development, the regulation of home building standards, social housing initiatives, the provision of subsidies, and the development of rental stock. However, the bulk of our work is the provision of housing for the poor. We cannot turn our backs on the poor. Poverty is not their making.
In doing so, it is important that all stakeholders must understand that being financially poor does not mean intellectual ineptitude. That is why it is important to work with the poor and in doing so to engage in a meaningful dialogue about services, products, aesthetics and location. Their voice must be heard.
There are challenges confronting all of us, which this plenary should focus upon as it breaks into various working groups where we must think, and think things through in order to find more appropriate solutions. We face a complex financial reality where the private sector which too often adopts a wait-and-see attitude to the financing of homes for the poor. We need to sharpen our pencils and come with innovative schemes in regard to providing affordable finance to the poor. We know much has been done but again, this is a call for us to go the extra mile.
While the government subsidy system is being reassessed, we will have to move away from a situation where, as it is often said, there are far too many people who are ostensibly too rich to get a government subsidy, yet too poor to be accommodated by the banks.
Regarding the construction industry, including wholesale and retail suppliers, it is important for these service providers if we are to remain partners to reconsider the exorbitant prices of their materials, something which has a severe impact on housing costs.
Civic and community organisations need to be kept within the loop as they are important representatives of the various communities affected. Engaging with such organisations should not be seen as a favour but a necessity. They cannot be by-passed.
Obviously, the solutions to these problems do not lie in the hands of government alone. To achieve the critical task of creating sustainable human settlements, we will continue to require effective and meaningful partnerships. We can never afford to walk alone.
In our Ministry's Budget Speech in the National Assembly June this year, we committed ourselves to building an effective coalition for human settlements. We are determined more than ever before to have action oriented dialogues within the state architecture, with broader civil society and communities, with the collective might of the private sector and programme-linked collaborations with international role players.
Given our broadened mandate, we have to enhance the nature of our partnerships. What, then, are the tasks of this plenary in doing so?
The conference planners have identified three areas for attention:
* social cohesion
* financing of human settlements
* inclusive and innovative planning approaches.
We are encouraged by this and do hope that the deliberations around these issues will be productive.
At this stage, I need to point out a matter which I hope will enjoy serious discussion by all the working groups, the national audit against corruption in human settlements, which we launched a few days ago. Corruption is the curse of our society, and must be stamped out without any equivocation no matter at what level of society it takes place, and irrespective of whether it is within government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and so on.
Equally important has been the recent standpoint adopted by the national Cabinet, inspired by President Zuma, to establish an inter-ministerial committee against the scourge of corruption.
So far as the special task team that I have established is concerned, we take a very serious view not just to mouth slogans about corruption and zero tolerance, but to take appropriate and effective steps to stamp it out, with dire consequences for those who are caught in the act.
In that light, the special audit task team consists of the following important elements:
* It is led by the Special Investigations Unit, bolstered by the Office of the Auditor-General.
* It is supported by the Human Settlements Portfolio Committee in the National Assembly, which is a multi-party structure.
* It has the full backing of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, (SCOPA)
* The Department of Human Settlements internal audit, legal and financial divisions have been instructed to cooperate with this probe.
* Last but not least, all MECs endorsed this drive at our meeting of MinMEC held in North-West a few weeks ago.
As we speak, there is total of 40 000 houses countrywide, that must be rectified or completely demolished as a consequence of bad workmanship.
Sadly, two such houses have killed a woman and a 13 year old child. Clearly, somebody must account.
This situation clearly follows from questionable contracts and building standards, approved by government officials and implemented by the private sector.
As they say, it takes two to corrupt.
The SIU has already brought to book more than 800 government officials who had houses and subsidies they should not have had. More are to follow.
As for the private sector: five members of the legal fraternity lawyers have already been struck from the roll for corrupt activities associated with housing. And we are hot on the heels of identified companies involved in nefarious activities.
We simply cannot allow people to turn the poor into a business. This is morally reprehensible.
At this point, we would want to use the opportunity of this platform to make a special call to you, our stakeholders, for cooperation with this special audit.
I wish the plenary positive deliberations, and hope for good outcomes.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Human Settlements
26 November 2009
Source: Department of Human Settlements (http://www.housing.gov.za)
Issued by: Department of Human Settlements
26 Nov 2009
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