Transcript: Post-Cabinet briefing by Government Spokesperson, Themba Maseko, Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town
25 Mar 2010
Questions and answers
Journalist: Just on the issue of directors-general, the issue of exactly where Directors-Generas are accountable, was that discussed? There has been that problem where you find that there is tension between directors-general and minister. Are they accountable to political heads, the ministers to Cabinet which approve their appointment or to the president who signs off on their appointments and how to deal with the tensions that existed before between directors-general and ministers, was that also discussed?
Themba Maseko: No it wasn’t discussed because it’s as clear as water. The directors-general are appointed by the President on recommendations of the ministers and that is taken to a Cabinet process. The directors-general are directly accountable to ministers and in case of tensions and difficulties between a minister and a director-general, the President is brought into the picture and he tries to resolve those difficulties. In terms of day to day accountability of directors-general it is very clear, they account to ministers as their bosses.
Journalist: What is the turnover rate though?
Themba Maseko: You will have to get to the Public Service Commission report, I didn’t check that one. The report was basically concerned that too many directors-general who are leaving the system is becoming a rolling door approach where directors-general actually in some cases, we have had departments that had more than eight directors-general since 1994 and there is a loss of intellectual property. So this is an attempt to try and make sure that we provide some security of tenure to enable the public service to be strengthened under strong leadership at the top.
Journalist: This initiative to improve communications with communities, does this sort of arise from a sense that government has become too distant and some of the reason for the protests are because of alienation or some kind of political disaffection or maybe you can explain what the background is?
Themba Maseko: The background is that we have been implementing the Izimbizo programme for more than a decade and they have actually provided a very useful platform for members of the public to speak directly to government and [have] given government the opportunity to tell communities what it is that we are doing to address their concerns. But it was felt that to limit the period to just one week - in fact in some cases you will find that we are not even able to convene those sessions per quarter - it was felt that it is important for us to actually extend the level of interaction to close the gap.
Yes there is a bit of gap between government and the citizens so this is an attempt to close that gap, to make sure that communities understand what the constraints are for meeting the basic service delivery concerns of communities; to tell communities what government is going to do to solve their problems. Because if you continue to see these protests, it’s an indication that in fact there is an element of discontent and our citizens may just be feeling that government is not listening to them. So this is an attempt to actually to bring Government closer to the people.
Journalist: Will Members of Parliament (MPs) be held accountable in the same way, will they be monitored more closely, and their interactions with their constituency?
Themba Maseko: This applies to the executive, that is to government, we are aware that Parliament has an initiative of taking Parliament to the people, so the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is taking the Parliament to the people and in those sessions government does participate in the form of ministers. But the holding of MPs accountable, that will be a separate political process, it will not involve the executive.
Journalist: Can you give us an example of how people can express their discontent in a responsible manner?
Themba Maseko: I think the major concern is that we are now living in a democratic state so it’s possible for people to use existing channels to raise their concerns. Our primary concern at this stage is the use of violence, the burning of libraries and other public facilitates and destruction of property.
We think is an unacceptable way of raising concerns in a democratic state. So we are appealing to communities to begin to use existing channels to raise their concerns and again we are aware that there are cases where communities feel that nobody is listening to them and that is why this public participation initiative will make it possible for people to communicate to government directly without waiting for their frustrations to be heightened. So we believe that we are providing communities with a platform, a channel to communicate and raise their concerns without having to resort to violent protests.
Journalist: Just on the issue of these protests: what feedback are you getting form the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in terms of this. I mean there are all these whispers going around that these protests are being coordinated by some unknown force and it’s been suggested that the similarity with the way in which they actually erupt, that there are similarities in how these protests actually get off the ground.
It’s been said they are too coincident as to raise questions over the spontaneity, was this discussed in Cabinet and is there feedback coming from the Intelligence Agency? And secondly, the minister is going out into these, I mean that is a huge number of community events - 4 359 over a 365 days a year - I’m just interested in terms of how that is going to play into a local government election campaign, and the extent to which the State uses those platforms.
Themba Maseko: The local protest, whether government discussed an intelligence protest report: it was not discussed at the meeting. Yes, there are trends that are descernible in all these protests. We are aware for instance, prior to the year leading to local government election, we tended to see a lot of protests taking place in various parts of the country in the past. But at the meeting there was no discussion on any intelligence report, our primary focus of government at this particular point in time is just to begin to identify the service deliveries concerns that exist in communities.
When communities say they don’t have access to water, there are potholes in various part of the cities, what do we do to address those concerns because even if there was a sinister force behind this protest, the reality of the matter is that there are genuine concerns and that’s where the focus of government is going to be: to make sure we improve the performance of local government to address the concerns of communities because local government is proving to be the most important sphere of government in the sense that it’s this sphere that interacts with communities on a day to day basis. So if there are concerns about performance at that level, that is where the primary focus should be to make sure that we improve performance of government at local government level.
The public events that we were talking about here, let me just unpack this a little bit. It’s not just ministers. You are talking about the minister; you are talking about the deputy minister, you talking about provincial executive council being the MECs in all the provinces. We want to see local government, particularly mayors and counsellors also conveying these kinds of events so when all of these people are participating in these events that’s when you see the large number of events taking place, it is not just ministers.
Whether this is part of electioneering for local government election, we did not think so when the discussion were taking place at Cabinet, that was not a factor considered at all. It is for you that we are improving on the existing programme, Izimbizo programme, to bring government closer to the people. So we are initiating this thing. Yes it will coincide with [the local] government election, but that is not the primary objective to use this platform for the elections, there will not be party political events.
There will be public events where the members of the public are expected to participate. If there is a member of the executive - either provincial, national or local Government level - that belongs to another party, they are equally going to be required to participate at these events.
The Presidential Coordination Council meeting is a meeting where the President meets the premiers and the representatives of South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to talk about how this matter could be rolled out in all the three spheres of government, so it is on a non participant basis.
Journalist: The investment protection treaty with Zimbabwe only comes into effect once both Parliaments have ratified it. What assurances are you getting from Zimbabwe that they will do this quickly so that this thing can come into force?
Themba Maseko: The assurance we can give is that these negotiations have been going on for many years; they actually started in 2002 with a commission set up by the two governments to negotiate this. Obviously it was slowed down with the political difficulties in Zimbabwe but the agreement that was signed in November actually represents a high level of commitment on the part of governments. We are giving the assurance that we will fulfil our part of the bargain and it is our expectation that government will do everything possible to make sure that the Zimbabwean government also lives by its agreement. That’s as much as we can say.
Journalist: Back to the protests, was there any sense that government’s slow reaction time to corruption could be a cause for communities to become very dissatisfied and protest? I just want to find out if there was any discussion in Cabinet about something like if government took swift action against alleged tenderpreneurs building bridges in Limpopo that wash away, whether that would not build a community's confidence far more than an izimbizo.
And just on the marches in the last two weeks: two marches have actually been banned, first was the Equal Education march to the Union Buildings that was first banned but then eventually they allowed them to go ahead. Then last week the Abahlali baseMjondolo march in Durban was banned and then they were given a kind of a limited small route to march along. Do you not want people to have peaceful marches instead of burning libraries in their own communities and if you do, then why do you prevent the marches from going ahead?
Themba Maseko: Your first question about building confidence, we think that the only way that government can build confidence is through improving service delivery. If communities expect water to flow from their taps and water flows from their taps that builds confidence. If people want potholes to be fixed as soon as they come up, that builds confidence.
Of course government has made it very clear that it will and is dealing with all incidences and allegations of corruption. There is even an Inter-ministerial committee that’s been put in place to make sure that government can deal decisively with issues of corruption. So yes all the things that government does, including the fight against corruption, will build confidence. But the most important way in which we can build confidence is by making sure that people can see visible change in their lives and I can assure you that the majority of South Africans are experiencing an improvement in their lives in many different ways and yet there are still challenges that exist.
Our focus is actually to make sure that we improve service delivery. Let me tell you that with the Izimbizo programme, we do not see that as an answer or a solution to the problem, it’s a contribution by creating a platform for people to know they can talk to government directly without any mediation in the form of media or any other entity. It’s a platform that we are creating but we are not saying that through izimbizo or the public participation initiative, all problems will be solved and they will go away, it’s a platform we are creating.
On the banning of marches, there are rules and procedures that need to be followed when anybody wants to organise a march and our expectation is that people will follow those procedures. What we are particularly objecting to is the violent nature of these protests. We will welcome anybody who wants to organise a march as long as that is done peacefully and through following the rules that currently exist. Blocking of freeways and roads without consideration of the rights of other citizens we find totally unacceptable, and that is what we are objecting to.
Journalist: Firstly I want to know the Public Participation programme, have you figured out the cost and from which budget will that come, from which department, the Presidency or wherever? Secondly did Cabinet discuss the National Ratepayers Union’s actions where they withhold rates and taxes as a form or protest against poor service delivery?
Themba Maseko: Budget for the Public Participation programme - each and every government department has a communication network which also includes outreach activities, so that will come for the budgets of all the various departments that will be participating in this initiative. So it’s not a question of a pot of money being made available for this event. Essentially what we are talking about is using an existing venue and inviting communities to come and interact with government.
The session that the Minister of Economic Development held in this room on Tuesday, the costs of such events are not that much, it’s simply getting a venue and organising maybe snacks here and there, it may not even be necessary to organise snacks so we don’t expect this to be a very expensive initiative.
However, there is no price that is too much for government to pay to create an opportunity for members of the public to tell government what they think of our performance, but at this stage the short answer to your question is, each and every department has a communication budget that will be used for this particular purpose.
Withholding of taxes, that issue was not discussed specifically at this Cabinet meeting, but I can tell you that withholding payments of rates and taxes in it is an illegal act. So if somebody does that, he is actually breaking the law and they will face the consequences, but the matter was not discussed.
Journalist: You say the existing provisions regarding the management of heads of departments were noted and I wondered whether there was any discussion of a moratorium on heads of departments joining associated private enterprises. There is a vogue phrase for it I presume before defence secretary can join Defence. Was there any discussion about it?
Themba Maseko: There were no discussions at this meeting. I know that the issue of what is called the javelin thing, whatever it’s called in government, has been discussed at different points within the government system and also within the ranks of the ruling party. And part of the equation was to look at the possibility of introducing a restraint of trade for directors-general; those are the technical phrase you are looking for.
The matter has not yet been finalised but it’s something that has been on the agenda for some time with no finality on it. Largely because it is a complicated matter, because if you are implementing a restraint of trade on anybody, you are essentially saying that they must not use their skills over a period of time and what has been established and practised through legal cases has been that if you implement a restraint of trade you must pay that person for not using their skills. So this is something that might have huge financial implications for government, that’s why there is a bit of a delay in taking a decision on that matter.
Journalist: Is Cabinet concerned that it’s been left until about 70 odd days before the 2010 FIFA World Cup and there is still no agreement with the taxi industry in place. The Minister of Transport had a meeting with South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) on Monday, Tuesday he goes on radio saying it went well, things are in place. Same interview, SANTACO comes and says that nothing happened; it has not been fruitful, what is happening? It’s just a few more weeks left to the world cup and there is no agreement in place. Is Cabinet not afraid that the country can be held at ransom during the world cup?
Themba Maseko: Discussions with the taxi industry have been going on for quite some time and obviously our interest is to make sure that some understanding is reached with the industry sooner rather than later. We have been to and fro with the industry, we have discussions, some understanding is reached and another group emerges and it puts new demands on the table. Yes, we are concerned and we want a solution to be reached as soon as possible.
You would know that as we got closer to the 2009 Confederations Cup we had similar kinds of issues being raised by the industry but we were able to demonstrate that the industry will be part of the public transport mechanism that has been put in place. There have never been any doubts in our minds about the need for a role to be coughed out for the industry and there is a commitment on the part of government on that issue.
It has been discussed and put on the table. The Minister of Transport did indicate to Cabinet that he will continue engaging with the industry to make sure that a solution is found sooner rather than later and so we remain quite optimistic that the industry will begin to understand and agree to a proposal that government has put on the table, but yes, we are concerned.
Journalist: Is government negotiating with bodies outside of SANTACO which is the only recognised taxi association? Does government recognise organisations such as the National Taxi Association and are you guys negotiating with them?
Themba Maseko: As far as I am aware in the initial stages of these negotiations there was an understanding reached with the industry, that SANTACO will be the main negotiating partner so that’s where the bulk of the discussions have been between the minister and the taxi industry. However, if there is a need to begin interacting with other groups in the industry, I am sure government will be willing to talk to them as well, we just want to find a solution to the problem.
Journalist: You say the withholding of the payments of rates and taxes is illegal and quite a few rate associations have been on the record that they are withholding the payment of their rates as a sign of protest for poor service delivery. What are you going to do about that, are you going to take them to task?
Themba Maseko: At this meeting the issue was not specifically discussed but my understanding is that if somebody breaks the law, the normal course of action will be taken by the relevant municipalities. If somebody doesn’t pay for electricity the lights go off,, as simple as that. So action is taken in that sense. That person can be taken to court to force them to actually pay their rates and taxes so it’s a very clear legal matter, we don’t think that it’s something that’s even open for debate.
Journalist: Are you aware of municipalities that have started that?
Themba Maseko: At this particular point, no, I am not aware of any municipality doing that.
Journalist: I know that you speak for government but surely also the ruling party has to take action against corruption at local council, there is an interplay between the ruling party and government in dealing with service delivery at local level. Is that something that is in discussion, how does that work?
Themba Maseko: I can assure you that I can lose my job if I were to speak on behalf of the ruling party so I will not do so. All I can tell you is that the President took the trouble to meet all the mayors around the country last year, to raise this as a matter of major concern so I would imagine that the ruling party is also concerned about this and I would imagine that it’s looking at this issue as a serious challenge and they will do whatever they can to make sure that their members play by the book, but that’s as far as I can say.
Journalist: My question is almost related. Does it really help to have 4 250 meetings, meet with communities for an hour or two, have snacks and whatever and then go away and the councillor still doesn’t take action to install toilets where there are not toilets and water where there is no water? What does it help to have those meetings when at local government level there is no action?
Themba Maseko: Part of what you are saying here - we are talking about the need for repeat meeting as well - is that a minister, deputy minister, mayor, MEC will go to a community and say this is our plan for this area and communities will say but we are not happy with the following things, there is no delivery. The minister, mayor or the MEC will go back and deal with those issues, come back and give feedback to communities to say this is what I have done to solve your problem.
So that is actually going to happen - if in those interactions it’s becoming increasingly clear that a particular mayor or official in a municipality is not performing, that is liking to lead to action and we have already seen examples of where national government has gone to municipalities, found problems and mayors were ask to vacate their offices by government.
So there is already evidence to suggest that in fact we become more hands-on and interact more regularly with communities. Changes are that we will begin to address much more of these issues but again the local government turnaround strategy is also going to be looking at the capacity of local government structure to put training measures in place if training is required, to make sure that the right people are employed in the right post level, to ensure that there is performance.
But I have to tell you we also going to run in some snags in some cases because you will find there is budget constrains in certain cases because government is not going to have the resources to deal with particular issues. But what is important in our view [is that] we should be able to communicate with communities about our constraints and our plans to address the challenges that are face communities so it is a process that’s going to unfold.
Journalist: There is evidence that a lot of the protest are located in areas where there is development, where stuff is happening and there is a theory when people see something happening, that is when expectation are very high and the protest are more likely as a result of that. The big problem of imbizo has also been follow-up - people has said they don’t even know why they bother to go to these things because they say nothing happens. How you going to achieve a proper follow up of the four thousand plus meetings? How many of them are one-off meetings, original meeting in an area and how many of them are follow-up meetings? Are they carried out over the whole year with regular feedback every three months or something? Is this not an acknowledgement that essentially you local government is in a state of collapse because there is not contact between government and its citizens which is supposed to occur mostly at local government level, it is just completely broken down?
Themba Maseko: Well we acknowledge that there are challenges and problems at local government level. We don’t think that we reached a state of collapse at this particular point and we acknowledge that there are problems and that is why the Minister of Cooporative Governance was actually spending each and every day of his working life making sure that the strategy is implemented.
The programme that we are talking about, in the past, in the izimbizo, all the community meetings would be a one-off event and the minister would come, talk and disappear and communities were always complaining that there were never feedback and issues are not resolved, so part of what we are implementing now is that every community meeting that is convened by a minister, deputy minister and MECs, premier or mayor that takes place; there will be a follow up meeting to give report back to those communities about what that member of executive has done to address concerns of communities. So that is basically the plan: not a one-off visit but regular visits to make sure that there is feedback at the meeting.
Yesterday Minister Chabane was given the task to actually design a system and a process to make sure that this is implemented. So what the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) will be doing, is contacting the officers of every minister, MECs, mayor, counsellor in designing a programme and designing a system to also give us feedback about what issues have been raised and what steps are being taken that government is feeding back to communities.
It is a process, we are going to work very hard to make sure that it works to the benefit of the communities, but also government will have a better sense of what communities are really feeling, what kind of issues they want us to attend to as government and this is a system we will make sure that we also monitor and whether we are actually responding and giving feedback to communities, no longer one-off meetings, there will be repeat meetings in communities.
Journalist: Just a follow up, I mean how concerned is the Cabinet now about the kind of increase in the numbers of protests and the violence associated with them ahead of the world cup?
Themba Maseko: Well, obviously as a government, if you see your citizens in the streets raising concerns about service delivery, naturally you would be concerned and that is why government is concerned and is putting emphasis on the turnaround strategy to make sure government responds in a systematic manner to all issues raised by communities. So obviously we are concerned. We don’t want to see these demonstrations, especially during the world cup when our country's attention and focus should be to be the best host ever for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; we really like to see al lot of these issues attended to well ahead of the world cup.
Journalist: I just wanted to follow up the line about we will not tolerate violence, same things were said last year when there were many of the protests happening, are we going to see an increase of law enforcement or action against the protests as we lead up to the world cup?
Themba Maseko: Well, it is not going to be an increase, it is the continuing action that is taken by our security forces; so if people are illegally blocking roads, they are destroying private and public property, the law enforcement authorities will act against those individual. There is no change; it remains government policy that those who break the law must actually not complain when the law acts against that illegal behaviour.
Journalist: Can I just get a follow up on Wendell’s question about the taxi industry. I mean the Transport Minister is well aware that the other main taxi group in the country is the National Taxi Association (NTA) who had a strike this week in Cape Town and basically brought the whole city's taxis to a complete stand still. Is his approach to ignore the NTA and keep negotiating with SANTACO who is itself at logerheads with the NTA? How is he going to bring the NTA into this negotiation?
Themba Maseko: He didn’t give details how the NTA will be brought into negotiations; we will undertake to get a media briefing by the Minister of Transport to just explain his plan of action as far as dealing with the taxi industry is concerned. The issue was not specifically discussed yesterday.
Journalist: I just wonder whether there had been any communication the Local Organising Committee (LOC) received from FIFA. I mean just putting some pressure or raising flags about the situation generally; I mean taxis on the one hand, protests on the other with the clock ticking?
Themba Maseko: I imagine that FIFA's major preoccupation at this particular point in time is to make sure that all arrangements for the world cup are in place. There is no issue raised with government as far as I am aware. But you will recall that even ahead of the world cup finals in France they had similar challenges - not exactly identical but they had all kinds of strikes taking place literally before the world cup final took place. So FIFA does understand that countries do have major national challenges and they would understand that government do whatever they can to address challenges facing those communities.
The most ideal situation is obviously for a lot of those challenges raised by communities and the taxi association to be resolved well ahead of the world cup, so when the world cup is taking place we don’t have all these kind of protests taking place. We are going to do the best as Government to make sure we obtain that first prize and that communities begin to say we raised our issues, government has listened and our issues are going to be attended to, the same with the taxi industry, so that we can have some kind of harmony to the period leading to and during the world cup itself.
If there are no further questions, thank you very much for coming.
Issued by: Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)
25 Mar 2010
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