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South Africa: State of the Nation Address Debate

Opening statement by the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Fraser-Moleketi, in the State of the Nation Address Debate, NCOP

This year the President focussed on the theme Parliament: The Voice of the People – Realising a better life for all in his State of the Nation Address.

Hierdie tema, in kombinasie met ons viering van die 50 e herdenking van die Kliptownse Kongres en die Vryheidsmanifes - 'n gebeurtenis wat 'n half - eeu gelede werklik mening gegee het aan die opinies en aspirasies van ons mense - plaas die klem op die betekenis van demokrasie. Die klem is om te verseker dat ons instellings wat verantwoordelik is om die mense te verteenwoordig dit doen ten einde ons agenda van 'n beter lewe vir almal te realiseer. The emphasis is on creating the mechanisms and truly supporting these democratic institutions to operate optimally to give effect to our dictum: “The People Shall Govern”.

The report card the President gave clearly reflects our achievements. But it also honestly reveals where we must improve.

We believe, though, that what is essential for improving on our efforts, is a strong State that can live up to the expectations that particularly the poor have of that State. Those who fall outside the perimeters of the market also usually live and operate in sectors in our society where community organisations are particularly poorly institutionalised and poorly resourced. Their only option is to turn to the state.

We cannot fail these people.

In 1996 we opted for Constitutional arrangements that are universally recognised as empowering to ordinary people. We deliberately opted for bringing government closer to the people and opening avenues for the participation of the people at all levels of government. These Constitutional arrangements include three spheres of government of which local government is structured to have a tight relationship with local communities. Local government is supported by the national and provincial spheres, but is charged with and given the resources from the central fiscus to perform critically important development functions such as water distribution, sanitation, municipal health services and electricity distribution.

We balanced this effort of decentralisation with opting for a unitary state, rather than a federal one. This was to ensure that the people’s voices from all corners of our expansive country can be heard in the debates on national policy issues and that they are not restricted to localised issue – a limitation often experienced in federal systems. It was to ensure that geographically entrenched narrow interests do not riddle our country, but that we operate in unison. It was decided to opt for a system of state that will support nation-building in a society that comes from deeply entrenched divisions.

The NCOP has a particularly important role in representing the voices of the people and their regional interests in Parliament. When we consider new legislation and when policy is being formulated it is important to consider the effects of these in specific regional contexts. The NCOP is important in overseeing the performance of government in a way that the special requirements of specific regional interests are addressed.

Honourable chairperson:

Our engagements with issues of decentralisation and centralisation have been exercised with great commitment since we came to power. Our efforts over the past decade are testimony to this government’s commitment to decentralise power, resources and accountability. Where the people's interests were served we restructured the ownership of our parastatals. We have opted for public service transformation that has significantly increased professional and managerial power, as opposed to the hoarding of power by the executive. We have strengthened the independent oversight institutions created in terms of Chapter 9 of the Constitution. Notwithstanding these and many other efforts more recently it seems as if there is a concerted effort to create the impression that we are set on centralising all power in this society in the President and Cabinet and the institutions that have been created to support them. This Government is vilified as a power hungry bunch of sycophants.

Of course it serves the agenda of the liberals in our midst to want a weak and powerless state. A weak state will open the way to them to operate society on the basis of creating an environment that serves the interests of the rich and leaving the poor to their own devices. It will create an environment in which we will not be able to build a more egalitarian society by redistributing some of the wealth that was built on the back of exploited black workers. It will create a society in which workers' rights are non-existing.

The liberal agenda is deliberately confusing the idea of a strong and coordinated State with that of monopolised power. They confuse the idea of letting all units of government share a commitment to the overall direction in which we want to move society with that of "taking control of every branch of government, every independent state institution, and every space in public and private life".

The laws of nature are instrumental to our understanding for the need of a centrifugal force. Our solar system is a system because it is governed by a shared magnetic field that creates certain forces. It does not mean that the various bodies loose their independence of operating, but there is a basic law of nature that allows them to function in a predictable and orderly pattern. Equally so is the case in government. As we allow the forces that pull government in localised and decentralised directions to strengthen, we are obliged to match these forces with a stronger unifying force at the centre of government. Not to dictate and usurp, but to ensure that no inefficiencies creep in as a consequence of competing initiatives. Not to weaken and undermine, but to ensure the best possible utilisation of our resources in the battle against poverty.

Honourable chairperson:

We are proceeding apace with giving effect to the provision of the Constitution that deals with the creation of a single public service. We are working towards creating a public service that embraces all three spheres of government, unified in terms of the goals that government pursues and in terms of the systems that underpin its work. We are also rapidly increasing the numbers and competence of our community development workers. A corps of public servants that crosses the divides between spheres and lines of government. A corps which is employed by provinces but working at the local level to add additional capacity and to strengthen government's relationship with the people.

Various agendas of different opposition parties are converging in a strange pattern. Transformation is cast in the light of being the downfall of continued development. Racial transformation is seen as the antithesis of a competent public service. Transformation is portrayed as being insulting to black people. This is simply not true. Racial and gender transformation of the machinery of state is a precondition of a sustainable and competent pool of public servants. Racial and gender transformation is a necessary precondition for the creation of a responsive public service. We have come a long way in pursuing the employment equity goals that we have set and we will continue to do so, particularly in those provinces that have been lagging while they were under the political control of parties hostile to government's agenda.

A further strange agenda is that the big liberals, the ones who up till now have only cared about individuals, now pretend to be speaking on behalf of communities. They who underestimated and disregarded the social embeddedness of individuals now want to be the big protectors of group rights. They who until recently could only think of representing the interests of the English elites are now trying to fight the cause of the Afrikaans. Indeed, we are living in strange times!

Coming from the history we do, we know the importance of mobilising the energy of the people for achieving success. We know the capacity to make things happen that is locked up in our people. They have in the past shown that they can make a country ungovernable if government does not represent their interests. It is because we are respectful of this power of the people and because we know that we derive our legitimacy as a government from their support that we have created a multitude of avenues through which they can live out the dream of the Freedom Charter: "The People Shall Govern". We will not allow that our communities are exploited for easy political point scoring and by forces whose real agenda has nothing to do with the socio-economic liberation of the masses.

As representatives of the overwhelming majority of our people, we must ensure that our people do not have to move outside the democratic avenues we have created for the voicing of concerns and interests. When we as representatives of the people do not ensure that the mechanisms that have been created functions optimally at the street-level, we create the opportunity for communities to be exploited to stage violent demonstration and destruction saying they are not heard by the ruling party and by government. We must be confident that this is not the case because of the effective functioning of the mechanisms that we have created. We must be confident in the people that we have placed in positions of trust. People who do not use democratic means to voice their opinions and concerns must understand that they are detracting from the nation's democratic agenda and undermining development.

Honourable Chairperson

We have come a long way since Kliptown to our democratic awakening in 1994, to standing here today a decade later. Proud of our achievement and looking forward to the further entrenchment of the ideals of the Freedom Charter which in the words of the President will be marked by, and I quote

* "the further entrenchment of democracy in our country;
* transforming our country into a genuinely non-racial society;
* transforming our country into a genuinely non-sexist society;
* eradicating poverty and underdevelopment, within the context of a thriving and growing First Economy and the successful transformation of the Second Economy;
* opening the vistas towards the spiritual and material fulfilment of each and every South African;
* securing the safety and security of all our people;
* building a strong and efficient democratic state that truly serves the interests of the people; and,
* contributing to the victory of the African Renaissance and the achievement of the goal of a better life for the peoples of Africa and the rest of the world. "

Issued by: Ministry of Public Service and Administration


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