Transcript: Post Cabinet briefing by Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson

19 August 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 19 August 2010
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, 120 Plein Street and video link-up to Room 153, Union Buildings


Journalist: In the discussions within Cabinet on the strike, is this a Margaret Thatcher moment of beating the unions because as the Finance Minister said in his Budget Vote that there just has to be a moderation of wage increases? So is this the final stand now because last year it was flip flop. Are we going to see another flip flop?

Themba Maseko: Linda, I don’t know what you define as the Margaret Thatcher moment but the fact of the matter is that there are limits to what Government can agree to in terms of salary increments and what is very clear is that there was a firm commitment on our part to go as far as possible. To go as far as it was affordable for us to actually meeting the demands if you reach a point where you are already exceeding the inflation rate by such a big number. We think we are setting a very bad example and I think the current wage settlements in the country both public and private sector are in the long run going to be very negative for the economy. They will have an inflationary effect which will end up affecting ordinary citizens. So whilst you understand on the one hand that there are tough economic conditions that many South Africans are experiencing today not just public servants. Workers in the private sector, we have unemployed citizens, we have the youth so there are huge challenges that are facing us we can’t continue to sign wage agreements that in the long run will have a negative impact on the economy which could actually to more job losses. So essentially we think we are adopting a very realistic approach to dealing with this issue.

Journalist: Has Cabinet made an assessment of the likely impact of the strike on essential services. Will the Defence Force be able to cope if hospitals are badly affected?

Themba Maseko: The impact is going to be huge we are not going to turn a blind eye to it. We are particularly worried about the impact of the strike on key sectors such as education. The fact that you have youngsters who just came out of a six week holiday because of the World Cup who are suppose to be preparing for the examinations are now standing on the streets without teachers to support them during such a sensitive period is something that in our view every South African should be concerned about. And this does not suggest that we are insensitive to the needs of the workers the fact that you have ordinary citizens who need urgent medical attention, on television they were showing pictures young women who are going to clinics to collect HIV treatment and who could not access their tablets. So an urgent matter that I think needs to be considered.

There are many other services. There are people who want to get passports because they have urgent travel to undertake and because of labour withdrawal there could be an impact on those kinds of services. So obviously we are concerned however, we are putting contingency measures in place. The Defence Force has been put on alert to provide assistance whenever it is necessary especially with regard to medical care. We think that the Defence Force will do the best it can, but whether it can be able to address all of the urgent needs during the cause of the strike is still a concern but we believe they will deploy as much as they possibly can to meet the needs that could arise.

Journalist: Where does the solution lie from Government’s prospective? What’s the solution?

Themba Maseko: At this particular point the decision is that Government will sign the final offer and it will be valued for 21 days after that it will go. I think its mediation or conciliation but at the end of that period chances are that this offer will be implement to all public servants. So I think we are reaching a stage where the offer will be implement despite the concerns or the unhappiness by the unions.

Journalist: Did Government calculate how much it will actually save by making all these cuts and can you give us a breakdown?

Themba Maseko: We have a particular target and the target in the first instance is to raise R5bn to pay for the R700 housing allowance so that is obviously the target but there is a serious commitment on the part of Government to actually identify areas of wastage and to find ways of cutting costs so that we can actually as Government like every South African begin to live within budget because the days of spending money as if it was unlimited is over. We think that the economy is showing signs of improvement but there is a need for Government to begin to spend the taxpayer’s money in a prudent way, so short term to meet the salary increase but in the long run, introduce greater efficiencies within the public sector.

Journalist: Can you give us an indication whether Cabinet received the Green Paper already because I know Nkwinti already signed off on it two weeks ago and then send it to Cabinet last week.

Themba Maseko: You’ve got very good source, I must say. The matter has not yet served before Cabinet but it could very well be that it’s still being discussed in the Cabinet committees but it has not yet served in Cabinet.

Journalist: Back to the strike if Government does sign the offer and the unions continue striking is there going to be a point where Government then says whoever is not back at work will be dismissed?

Themba Maseko: At this stage we have not reached that point at this particular point in time the no work no pay rule will be implemented with immediate effect. We think the unions will come around because what Government has done in the negotiations with the leadership of the union was to actually put all the facts on the table to explain why we can’t afford the 8.6% salary increment and we believe that trade union leaders have a responsibility to go back to their members to actually inform them that these negotiations were done in an open and transparent manner and Government demonstrated its commitment to meet the unions as far as it was actually affordable. We are hoping that in fact some common sense, some sanity will prevail and that the workers will realise that actually Government has done what is possible and they will actually go back to work as soon as possible. But if the strike continues for an unreasonable amount of time than Government is going to consider what further action needs to be taken.

Journalist: Turning to the Information Bill. Has Cabinet actually considered the possibility of withdrawing the Information Bill and how concerned is it about South Africa’s international image as a result of this apartheid era style legislation? You have seen criticism pretty much across the board, COSATU, business organisations, international ambassadors and so on; I mean clearly this is not just coming from the media.

Themba Maseko: The Protection of Information Bill is still exactly that, it’s a Bill being considered by Parliament at this particular point in time and all submissions are being considered. There is no decision to withdraw the Bill, however as submissions come, I think we are not dealing with an in transition Government here, so if there are valid strong arguments being put against the Bill, Government will consider all those submissions and if needs be it may consider what further action it needs to take. At this particular point in time there is no decision to withdraw the Bill, obviously if an impression is created that the Bill is intend on muzzling the media and limiting free speech it is something we would be concerned about. We are monitoring very closely as GCIS media coverage on the Bill both locally and overseas and we do acknowledge that the negative stories are beginning to migrate to the international sphere and we are obviously concerned about that. It’s something that we think both Parliament and Cabinet will indeed take into consideration.

Journalist: It was two weeks ago that you first spoke about a meeting between Government and the South African National Editors Forum. Has an invitation been send and if not, who’s dragging his heels?

Themba Maseko: Well at this stage nobody is dragging his or her heels. We have made contact with SANEF, I personally spoke to the chairperson of SANEF and we are trying to find a date. Obviously there are a lot of international commitments from Government’s side, state visits have taken place since the last Cabinet meeting there’s a SADC meeting. So we are trying to find a date because when such a meeting happens we want to be able to produce a very strong Government delegation with a number of Ministers participating. So at this stage it’s just a question of logistics, finding the time where we can pull many staff to attend such a meeting. At this stage, commitment is there, it’s strong, firm it’s a question of finding the dates. I will be talking to the chair of SANEF to expedite the matter.

Journalist: On the same issue Themba, I know you are not the presidential spokesperson but when Cabinet says it respects media freedom and the President who is the leader of Government goes around and slams the media, doesn’t it create confusion here in the messages that you are trying to put across?

Themba Maseko: Not at this stage the message is the same. Government and President Jacob Zuma respect media freedom. What the President was explaining was indeed concerns about media especially print media coverage at this particular point in time and he was indicating that in fact it’s something that needs to be put on the table and that is essentially what we are talking about here. Essentially what we think should happen is a meeting between Government and senior editors to talk about concerns from Government’s side, to also here the views of the media on all the issues on the table. What is a major difficulty is that there are so many issues that are fuelling this perception that Government wants to limit media freedom. So we are saying let’s have that discussion, let’s have that debate but most importantly find a way of making sure that the debate is a rational debate. There is too much emotion on both sides which is actually making it difficult for rational discussion and debate to take place, it’s a discussion that in my view needs to take place without emotion, without people yelling insults at each other, calling each other names, which is what one is observing in a lot of the media stories, articles and comments made over the past few weeks. So let the meeting happen and let’s see where we can go with all the issues that are in the media space.

Journalist: I wondered to what extent, Cabinet or Government in its approach to labour sees it as a labour aristocracy even while public sector wages might be low in relation to the massive unemployed and widespread poverty they are clinging on to their own positions at the expense of general economic growth and benefit.

Themba Maseko: What I’m suggesting in the statement is that there are quite a number of policy issues that needs to be put on the table for open and frank discussions with labour, business and other civil society organisations. To just agree on an economic growth path for the country and begin to put on the table some of the key challenges that we need to take into account because the fiscus is not unlimited and the way we manage the National Budget we have to give due attention to all the challenges that face us. Yes salaries are an important challenge that we are facing but also there are many and huge demands facing the nation and we can’t manage the Budget in a manner that seems to show a greater bias towards those who are already employed at the expense of those who are poor and unemployed in the streets of our country. This requires some level headed discussion on the part of Government, labour, unions, civil societies and business to just agree what needs to be done with this economy to make sure that all of us can share in the benefits that will accrue if we continue managing the economy properly. So that’s essentially what we are putting on the table here.

Journalist: You said earlier if the strike goes on for too long that Government may consider its next step on how to handle it. What is too long is that a week, two weeks considering the services that may be affected? Secondly if you can give us an example of what would be a good starting point of a rational debate on these issues between the media and Government?

Themba Maseko: Okay what is to long even a single day of no public service is too long essentially. We are hoping that we are just going through this phase where public servants are actually just receiving and internalising the state’s final offer and we are of the view that after a few days the union leaders will realise that in fact Government has done what was possible and affordable and after that unions will begin to call on their workers to return to their posts. We are really hoping for that, a single day without services is actually too long especially in essential areas such as education and health. Rational debate in my view is essential about a discussion of what is the best model for regulating the media. What is important for us to understand is the fact that there is agreement in this country that there is a need for some kind of regulation and what the media currently is of the view that self regulation is the model but there may be a need to change or improve that self regulation. The other proposal from the ruling party is that self regulation is not a model it has not worked in the past and you need an alternative to self regulation. So Jan Jan, that is the debate and I think that when those issues are put on the table it’s going to be possible for some rational debate to say what has not worked with self regulation, how can it be improved or is there an alternative that needs to be put on the table. So in my view that is the rational discussion that needs to take place.

Journalist: In what way does Government consider the media to be self regulated given the option of going to court?

Themba Maseko: I was not aware that there is a debate of self regulation or not. The model currently applicable in this country is self regulation where you have an ombudsman who is appointed by the media who receives these complaints and deals with the media. There is a Press Council and if somebody is not happy with the Ombudsman you go to the Press Council who is appointed by the media, you then go to I think it’s a retired judge who is appointed who look at those appeals if someone is unhappy, that judge is appointed by the Press Council, so it’s essentially the Media Monitoring complaints process. So what’s been put on the table there is unhappiness about that model and a proposal has been put on the table to say let’s look at an alternative way of regulating the media. Media is saying it is unhappy with the model that has been put on the table and that is often Media Appeals Tribunal and I think that is a debate that needs to happen.

Journalist: Has Government done a study or can you tell us which other countries, democracies in the world utilize a Media Appeals Tribunal. Earlier you said that the debate must happen without emotions and without name calling, who has called who names, can you just tell us that?

Themba Maseko: Name calling, if you go through the media, I think we are averaging about three articles a day on this subject, all kinds of debates and on both sides I think there is too much emotion in my view dealing with this issue. I don’t think that I can mention any particular writer, politician or a journalist who has actually done any name calling but the point I am making is that there is just too much emotion in this debate and there isn’t any rational debate to look at the real options that are being put on the table. Models, you must understand that the debate about the Media Appeals Tribunal at this particular point in time is not yet a Government discussion but what we are doing at GCIS is to do research and study on this model, so at this point I am not in a position to tell you what the study has found, we are still doing it so we will let you know as so as we have completed the study.

Journalist: What other countries are you aware of at the moment?

Themba Maseko: There is one or two other countries that we have found but we are still studying it. I think we can find out, we are doing the research; we can talk to you later about it.

Journalist: The President questioned whether the media has the ability pronounce or the capacity to comment and judge Government’s performance. (Speaking off the mic) 3:26

Themba Maseko: I don’t know when the President made that comments, I can’t speak for the President. Let me not comment on what the President has said. I can tell you that at this particular point in time there is a firm commitment on the part of Government to respect media freedom so that is what I am saying to you. I am unfortunately not in a position to respond to any comment on what the President has said.

Journalist: Going back to the strike, Government’s offer will cost R5 billion, can you just give an idea of what; if the unions’ demands are met what it will cost the State?

Themba Maseko: Unfortunately I don’t have that number we can talk to national Treasury and get that number; I can tell you that in the calculations that we have done it was found to be totally unaffordable, but we can give you that number later on, I know Treasury has done the calculations

Journalist: Whose Christmas parties will be cancelled, is it a sort of on all three levels of Government including Ministers and has it been communicated with them already?

Themba Maseko: If you read the statement you will see that this is a decision taken by the Kwazulu Natal Provincial Government and we are putting it as a very good example of what a Provincial Government has done to try and cut costs. So in the Province, in their budgets no Christmas parties will take place in that particular Province. What we are proposing is that all Government Departments, all spheres must actually consider this as a possible model as a way of cutting costs. Hopefully it will not affect our annual dinner session with the PGA in Cape Town. We could come up with regulations to regulate expenditure that is the direction we are going.

Journalist: (speaking off the mic 6:04)

Themba Maseko: It’s true that it’s still a debate but the way Policy migrates from political parties to Government is as follows, a resolution is taken at a party Conference and that resolution is then brought into the Government process through a concrete policy proposal which is discussed and debate within Government and then it gets translated into Legislation at a later process. So chances are that if it’s taken as a final resolution at a party Conference, chances are is that it will actually find its way into Legislation. There has to be a process it’s not an automatic thing that resolution today, Legislation tomorrow, there still has to be a process.

Journalist: A decision has been taken (speaking off the mic)

Themba Maseko: The way things are I can only explain the process. The decisions are taken, you have to understand there is a political party and there is Government so discussions take place within the political party then its introduced to Government, then if Government also endorses that decision it becomes official Government policy. If it’s Legislation it will still come to Parliament. There will still be public hearings, discussions, debates, submissions etc. But ultimately you are correct in saying that if there is a resolution chances are that it will become official Government policy.

Journalist: Just for the sake of perspective with regards to Kwazulu Natal and its decisions on how to save money. Can you give us an overview on what their financial position is because I also think it’s important to look at their over expenditure, Pietermaritzburg is a long way from Cape Town but it might be important to see what brought this upon them.

Themba Maseko: All I can tell you is that this information was brought to Cabinet following a discussion between the Minister of Finance in the Provincial Government to just understand what are the key challenges taking place in the Province. I can tell you that their finances are definitely in the red, I can’t tell you to that extend but they are in the red. What the Minister of Finance is currently doing as part of developing regulations for cost cutting measures is actually talking to key Departments and Provinces that are already in the red with the view to understanding the extend of the difficulty and challenges and then making sure that they have a plan to deal with their challenges. But they are definitely in the red as we speak.

Journalist: I just wanted to get an idea of the components of the strategic partnership agreement with China, what is in that document, what is going to be the nature of the Government delegation and Government meetings during that visit and also the nature of the none Government meetings. Also on the AMD issue, can we get some sort of timeframe to when the task team will report back to parliament and what is the brief of that task team?

Themba Maseko: Unfortunately I can’t give you the details of the comprehensive agreement with China but what we are instituting now is a process where prior to State visits there is a detailed briefing to the media about what is the purpose of the trip, what we are hoping to achieve and that is where we will be giving the content of that agreement possible agreement with China. That will be followed up with a post trip briefing where we will also give a report about what actually transpired during the course of the trip so please bear with us on that one. The composition of the delegation is basically, it will be lead by President Zuma; there will be delegations of Minister as well in key areas especially in the economic sector. We have also a huge private sector participation but we will give you details when we do the briefing but we are currently talking to the Department of International Relations to arrange the brief briefing before the trip takes place, So please bear with us on that one. The asset drainage story, this is a fairly urgent matter so the Minister of actually when Cabinet took this decision indicated that she has already decided to set up such a team so the team will be implemented within a matter of days. Unfortunately they will have to convene their first meeting before we can tell you what their time frames are for them to continue their task but it is a fairly urgent matter.

Journalist: Any Bills in the works that you know of to establish something like a Media Tribunal, any Bills being prepared.

Themba Maseko: No Bills that I am aware of on the Tribunal

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)