Transcript of media briefing by President Kgalema Motlanthe
8 February 2009
Facilitator: Thabo Masebe, Presidential Spokesperson
Presenter: President Motlanthe
Venue: Tuynhuys, Cape Town
Facilitator: You now have an opportunity as media reporting on the matters that concern the State and work that we do as government, so you could have an opportunity to speak to the President about the issues contained in the State of the Nation Address (SoNA). I assume that we've all had time to read or we did listen on Friday when the SoNA was delivered and also had time to go through the speech. So, there might be issues which you feel we could say more about, give more details and so on, or explain.
This is really an opportunity for that. I know that previously, the only chance media had to get more insight into the speech was through the interview that we do with the public broadcaster, but we thought we should just create this opportunity for you to ask a few questions, so we are here. We are not going to make any speech now because the speech was delivered on Friday.
The President is here to answer your questions, so the format we would really conduct it like an interview, its one question at a time. Who wants to start?
Please, identify yourself and ask your question.
Journalist: Thank you very much. Thank you so much for the opportunity, Mr President. I would like to cut directly to the issue of land reform if I may. You spoke on land reform, you said that perhaps it had not gone as well as anticipated. There are so many farmers in this country who have basically agreed to land reform, the whole of Limpopo province, for instance, is basically one big land reform situation.
Some farmers have been waiting as long as 11 and half years. What can you say to these farmers practically? Because they cannot develop their farms and basically they can't sell them, they're not worth much at the moment. How would government practically better their lives given the situation that they find themselves in?
President Motlanthe: Well, the land reform programme which is covered in the current ANC manifesto is one of the priority areas, the aim being to improve on food production and achieve food security. So the government would pay attention to challenges such as water supply for irrigation purposes and ensure that farmers are assisted with all the important requisites such as seeds and equipment and implements. This will be a priority area in the overall struggle or fight against poverty.
Journalist: Can you share with us when the election is going to be, please?
President Motlanthe: Yes, I've had one session with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), we've agreed tentatively on some dates. I still have to consult the Premiers with regards to that. As soon as that is done, we will make the announcement and that should be followed by a proclamation.
Journalist: Mr President, I know you are still waiting for the task team which was called to respond to the global economic impact on South Africa. But can you just share with us any rescue plans or to say what will be the thrust. Surely, there's going to be discussions? But what will be the thrust? Will it be saving jobs or retaining jobs? And if that's the case, do we have money? Are we going to go into our contingency coffers?
President Motlanthe: Yes, indeed, the main thrust would be to try and save jobs, as many jobs as we possibly can, and also to, through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), create more jobs. You know, if you take our urban areas, there's need for maintenance, actually, of bulk infrastructure. That could be an opportunity to also create jobs for people in ensuring that there is maintenance of road infrastructure in the public areas such as parks and so on. And the Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) are also to be roped in to assist, where necessary.
The reason why we are not simply going to copy what you know the Americans and the British are doing is because we have, in a sense as a developing country, the opportunity to reposition the country in terms of investing in infrastructure and so on. And we see that as a way of keeping people in jobs, as we reposition the country to ensure that when there's an upswing in the global economy, we are able to play in that space as competently as possible.
Journalist: Just a follow-up question on my colleague here, do I understand correctly that government at this stage has taken an in-principle position that there will be no bail-out packages for industry? Do I have an impression that at least one industry has appealed to government? I think a figure that they requested was in the region of R10 billion. Is government sort of maintaining an in-principle position that there will be no sector-specific bail-out packages as the Europeans and Americans have had?
President Motlanthe: Well, we have already been involved in efforts to save jobs in the clothing and textile industry for instance. And what we are saying is we will continue, we'll not go back, we'll continue in those efforts and also when there is downscaling, the mining industry for instance is going to experience difficulties given the decline in demand for the automotive industry, platinum mines will end up with surplus capacity, and what we're saying is that you know they should look at other options, go into short weeks, extended leaves, in order to ensure that people are not just retrenched. So that's the package that the task team is looking at rather than just throwing money into these companies.
Journalist: You mentioned in the speech that you were going to access the billions and billions of rands that are in pension funds. Could you expand on that for us because there was considerable alarm?
President Motlanthe: I know you people have a deep aversion for prescribed assets, but of course the task team includes labour and as you know that, pension funds and provident funds are directed by a board of trustees, which is composed on a 50-50 base representation between employers and organised labour. So that's one of the areas that they would have to look at, if a very important sector is likely to go under and that you know an injection could save jobs and position it to survive. Those are some of the options in the whole range that have to be looked into.
Journalist: Mr President, on the front page of the Sunday Independent today, an allegation made about your personal life was retracted by the woman who was apparently or allegedly involved in that. Can you tell us why you did not from the onset deny these allegations in the first place and are you considering legal action?
Facilitator: I thought I indicated, why we are here, it's an opportunity created so we can talk about these issues. Now if you wish, please, let's focus on that.
President Motlanthe: I think I'll drop a line to the Press Ombudsman. He has the time and the authority and the responsibility to look into those kinds of indiscretions. I think I've got more than enough on my plate to be dealing with that, thanks. Thank you.
Journalist: [unclear – off mic]… When you talk of the EPWP, does it represent an example of decent work as stated by the unions?
President Motlanthe: Well, the EPWP creates job opportunities in the main. We are saying in these difficult times, it may be actually helpful to try and find people on a more permanent basis to improve on, say for instance, the hospitals and the clinics, in the cleaning up and so on, so that people could be taken, you know, on a more regular basis to do that kind of work. To keep police stations more spruced up so that when you walk in there, you feel confident that you know your matter will be attended to. The schools could be maintained through the EPWP. I mean some of the schools are in a dilapidated state. And people will be employed to do that kind of work. In some of the smaller dorpies, you know, the roads have potholes and so on. People would be employed more on a permanent basis to do that kind of maintenance.
Journalist: Mr President, in your speech you outlined a list of challenges that face the country, and opposition parties said you avoided addressing the real challenges facing people. Which areas do you think the government has actually failed to address? And if you ever had the chance to run again as President, which area would you focus on the most?
President Motlanthe: I wouldn't have a chance. No, the… let's take the issue of poverty. Government would grant people some support in the form of the Child Support Grant, and other social grants. But that in itself does not eliminate poverty. So it's merely a relief. It doesn't really eliminate poverty per say, that is why the war against poverty. Government takes a view that the best possible way of pulling families out of the cycle of poverty is to find one or two members of the family who are of school-going age, help them along through so that they acquire educational qualifications and skills.
And therefore, hopefully be in a position to help pull the families out of that cycle. So that's a good example, where you're dealing with a stubborn problem and challenge and what you do really to sustain the hopes of people rather than to eliminate it, because it takes other efforts to eliminate poverty. It's going to be a long, long, long struggle against poverty. So if you like, if you're looking at it from the point of view of detractors, you say well, government has failed to eliminate poverty but the recipients of those grants would appreciate and are grateful that at least they don't go to bed without a morsel of bread, but it doesn't actually eliminate poverty altogether.
Journalist: Mr President, in your speech you referred to the power-sharing governments in Zimbabwe and the progress that has been made there. That Tsvangirai should be sworn in as Prime Minister this week some time with timelines set. Can you perhaps comment on concerns about the ability of Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mugabe to work together to actually carry out the tasks that are necessary to rebuilding the country?
President Motlanthe: Well, I don't know what else I can say except that the electorate in Zimbabwe gave Mr Tsvangirai's party 100 seats in the assembly and Mr Mugabe's party 99 seats. And that… whether they like it or not or whether they like each other or not, they are bound to work together if anything is to be passed by that assembly and if the country itself is to pull itself out of the rut of poverty and disintegration of bulk infrastructure. They are bound to work together. Ours is really to support them in those efforts, and to that extent, we've facilitated a number of one-on-one meetings between the two of them, and also meetings which included Professor Mutambara. They seem to be getting along fairly well. We are optimistic that they can at least manage a transition period until they are ready to call for fresh elections on the next anniversary of the elections.
Journalist: Mr President, just one issue of clarity, you answered a question as to whether shouldn't we be seeing bail-outs as a last resort, you're looking at all the other steps which are so uncertain. Specific industries may need direct interventions in the form of bail-outs.
Secondly, could you comment on the reports that the R300 million South Africa has set aside to assist Zimbabwe is actually being controlled by the Zanu-PF aligned organisations?
President Motlanthe: Well, you know, as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), we organised the broadest, most representative cross-section of the Zimbabwean people to a framework for handling and distributing aid and that framework includes grain growers, NGOs, religious leaders, the World Health Organisation. It was all (brought) together by SADC.
Therefore, we channel relief and aid through that structure precisely because we knew that you know you could not deal only with government or any of the political parties. And that is why I am certain that you have not had a complaint about the manner in which that relief was handled and distributed. So, that's how we are dealing with relief. We've encouraged all other donors to work through that structure, because it is non-partisan, it is most representative. The question with regards to a bail-out package, the point I was making is that we would not have a special fund for giving to companies as it were, but that we'd… this task team that we established would look at all options. The primary area of focus is to try and save jobs and, of course, to save the companies because if a company goes under, there will be no jobs to save. So that's how we're approaching that question.
Journalist: While you were delivering your SoNA, there was a group of people protesting, calling for a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. I know you said in the past that if people have allegations they should go to the police with these. But I mean it's quite clear that a judicial commission of inquiry [unclear]… investigation. And don't you think it would be a good time to announce that commission of inquiry on Friday? And what exactly are the reasons for holding off on this?
President Motlanthe: Well, firstly I don't now whether it's a campaign or what but I received part… what do they call it… an open letter from Archbishop Emeritus Tutu and former President FW de Klerk calling for the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry. And virtually, I mean literally, they gave me seven days within which to establish a judicial commission of inquiry with terms of reference and all that, made the point… they actually stated that because there are impending elections people need to know about these issues before they can vote for the party of their choice and so on.
And I responded to them in the negative and indicated to them that in the previous investigations by the three agencies, the Public Protector, Auditor-General and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), it was stated when they submitted their report that the NDPP would be available to follow up on all allegations that were to arise subsequent to the submission of that report, and that before Parliament went into recess at the end of the year, Scopa, the public accounts committee here in Parliament, was dealing with precisely that matter and invited those who had information to make submissions. And that didn't really make any sense for me to establish a fact process, parallel process, under those circumstances. And that's my position.
Journalist: Yes, I wondered if you could fill out a little more about the task team, what is its term of reference and who is on it and when does its work finish? And will there be a report at the end of it?
President Motlanthe: Yes, there will be a report at the end of it. As we stated, we are busy at work, it consists of people on government's side from The Presidency and people from business and organised labour. So we expect that you know they will maybe come back to us with very concrete proposals of how we should respond to this economic meltdown. Mindful of the fact that we don't know the… we have not seen the bottom of this meltdown yet. All we know is that we've seen the tip of this iceberg, but we haven't seen the bottom of it yet. So we really have no certainty about its extent and gravity. We cannot even make projections up to a certain point.
Journalist: And when do you expect this…
President Motlanthe: As soon as they're done. I think it should be within this month or by next month.
Journalist: I'm going to try and restate my first question. I was actually trying to focus on the plight of commercial farmers who are stuck on land which because the government is being slow with the land process, which they cannot sell and which they cannot really develop. Do you have any message for those commercial farmers, some of whom have been waiting for more than 11 years after having reached a consensus with government on the need for land reform, on when this will actually go through and whether you're going to commit more funds or clean up their act in Polokwane in the land office or anything practical like that?
President Motlanthe: Well, that's a specific question relating to the commercial farmers in Limpopo, and I would follow up with the minister and ensure that the interaction commences.
Journalist: Mr President, if I'm right, you tacitly indicated to whoever is going to come back in the new administration to tone down on policies. Was it an admission to say that especially your own party's promises in its manifesto are going to be more expensive? If it was not a tacit admission would you say that given the economic meltdown and given that you have been in the Presidency for six months, would you say that these kinds of promises given this economic meltdown are really expensive? And just I'd like a follow-up question, please. Are you coming back after the election?
President Motlanthe: Now, with the issue of whether I'm coming back or not, that really is a matter of the party lists, if I am in the lists perhaps I would, I don't know yet, so let's leave that to the political parties. With regards to the other question, how shall I put it, it's not to say that the manifestos are not properly costed. As I tried to indicate that this meltdown is an unknown quantity. Some countries have hastily declared that they've gone into recession. But precisely because in this forum we have not touched the ground yet, it's very difficult to say whether it is indeed a recession or a depression. And when you are confronted by such uncertainty it is helpful to ensure that, you know, you become conservative and prudent in your expectations. Because the situation is very, very different from where we were before the meltdown. That's why we called for collective approaches to agree on an intervention.
Journalist: Mr President, you spoke of some problems that obviously exist within the court system. Any particular plans to make sure that the Criminal Justice System (CJS) functions more efficiently to address the bottlenecks and the frustrations of those who are in that system and obviously in terms of trying to fight crime. And just another one very quickly, on the question of education, obvious…government you've mentioned takes that very seriously, however, there are a number of children now who still haven't received their matric results and it's frustrating to them, they cannot enter tertiary institutions and so on.
President Motlanthe: Well, with regards to the delay to the matric results, there's really no excuse, there's no reason why in February already such results are not out, and I know that the Minister (of Education) is attending to that matter quite urgently. And regarding the question of the CJS, we have already in process of review, led by the Deputy Minister of Justice, looking into the entire CJS, so steps have already been taken to do a review. We are just awaiting the final report and recommendations.
Journalist: Mr President, within the context of the fight against crime, could you share with us the reasoning and perhaps explain how arresting a national police commissioner is a greater threat to national security than having him run around with organised criminals?
President Motlanthe: Yes. The way you put it… There's no rationale here, you can't have the rationale with the Commissioner of Police is running around with criminals, that's irrational. But on a more serious note, the issue of national security relates to… I mean, let me put it differently, the place and role of law-enforcement units in any country relates to security very vehemently. If you have a situation in which the… your law-enforcement units are clashing or in direct conflict with one another, that in itself could create a very serious situation, threats to the country. That is essentially what we're talking about. And, therefore, that there is always need to ensure that there is proper and clearly defined roles and mandates and co-ordination as well.
Because unfortunately if you read the laws they are not that clear in the sense that responsibilities are given to various offices, the law says final responsibility rests with the Minister, and then you have a situation where the issue of independence gets interpreted in various ways and therefore leading to confusion. So these are some of the grey areas that need to be clarified. I'm sure you know that even the courts don't see it from the same page with regards to these issues.
Journalist: I just want to know, in your meetings with the IEC you engaged on the issue of political intolerance?
President Motlanthe: Yes, we agreed that all political parties, and this is a message we've been harping on in many of our addresses, must be free to canvas for support in all areas of this country, and that there should be no danger of any party being part of… being completely shut out of any area or section of the South African electorate. That's a message that we all repeat all the time now, we agreed on that.
Journalist: [unclear]… Competition Bill. Parliament has sent back the Competition Bill in spite of two concerns raised about [unclear]… criminal liability. Now in the wake of that, some of the leaders who were at the SoNA suggest that insisting on their criminal liability provisions signals a change in tone in government that's sort of more hostile towards business, could be because of the ongoing anticompetitive behaviour in various industries [unclear] investigated. So would you say that government, because of this evidence of price fixing, has developed a more vigilant attitude towards business? And what are you going to do with the Competitions Bill now that it's been sent back, without addressing the issues raised.
President Motlanthe: No, assent for any bill must be done when the President has no reservation. If I have a reservation as I did have in this… with regards to this bill, and I sent it to Parliament with all the attachments, spelling out why I have reservations. And Parliament has sent it back as is, so my next step would be to refer it to the Constitutional Court for certification. And with regards to the other question, the point I was making in the SoNA was that it is important for our democracy that we also guard against monopolies giving prices, you know, to the great prejudice of the rest of the consumers and the population. Because as you know monopolies can always fix prices. And that we're encouraged by the Competitions Board that it's very vigilant and what they've done is commendable to bring to book this major points.
Journalist: Mr President, in your address you didn't quite accurately address the issues which have been lingering for the past ten years or so, you know, the issue of this thing on public service, the issue of [unclear] competence. Even former President Mbeki in his last address did admit to say all interventions about capacity and the local government service delivery of concurrent provinces. We have seen budgets being returned to their treasuries as a result of under-spending of provinces, and the ANC in its national policy conference hasn't quite much really dealt with the issue of what's going to be the future of the provinces.
President Motlanthe: Well, I'm just the caretaker President really. That's too heavy a task for a caretaker President. We leave that to the next administration. It's a matter you can't address within a few months. It's a big question, the question of the viability and need for provinces. It would require national discourse before a position is made with regards to that.
Journalist: I wondered if you would… talking about big decisions that have to be made, I wondered if you would deny that you intend to appoint Mr Mkhize as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP)?
President Motlanthe: It's a very smart way of putting it. Because you know the appointment of a NDPP s a political… there are no normal procedures of interviews and things like that. The only guide is that the person must be a qualified advocate. Whereas the suspension and dismissal is lifted out of the act governing conditions for judges, so the two are not quite compatible, the appointment is just merely political and the suspension and dismissal follows the procedure applicable to judges. That's one of the weaknesses in the act I think that needs to be corrected going forward. I think it would be better if the appointment of a NDPP were to be handled, the interviews and the shortlist and all of that were to be done by bodies such as the Judicial Services Commission so that as in the case of judges then they could shortlist four names and submit to the president. I think the public would have more confidence in that kind of procedure. So I don't know about this person you are referring to, thank you.
Journalist: Do you intend to ask the JSC to do that right now?
President Motlanthe: It's a question which relates to the Act itself. As the Act stands now I can appoint an NDPP tomorrow if there is a vacancy. And all I'm saying is that these are some of the weaknesses in the Act that really deserve correction.
Cell: 082 410 8087
Issued by: The Presidency
8 February 2009