Transcript: Post-Cabinet briefing by Government Spokesperson, Themba Maseko

22 April 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 22 April 2010
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town


Journalist: Can you give us more details on the geysers campaign?

Themba Maseko: Basically this campaign is aimed at encouraging South Africans to move away from electricity geysers to more solar generated geysers, solar energy geysers throughout the country, so Government has set aside a budget that will assist especially members from the disadvantaged communities to actually acquire these geysers, but also to encourage those South Africans to change from electricity powered geysers to solar and other alternative sources of energy geysers. The figures were not announced at the meeting but it’s expected that it’s going to be quite a substantial amount. He (President Zuma) is announcing on the day of the launch of that campaign, it will be some kind of a subsidy scheme for those who can’t afford. We will release those details later on; it was not announced in the meeting yesterday.  

Journalist: What kind of discussions did you have on the Who Am I Online issue? You had the company that was axed saying they are going to launch a lawsuit which is going to be very costly for Government. You have also opposition parties saying in the Home Affairs Committee that it should not have been handled this way, the contract should have been properly cancelled and nullifying any kind of potential for a lawsuit based on the forensic audit into it last year which was never released publically. Did Cabinet discuss it and feel that there was a better way they could have gone about this?

Themba Maseko: The cancelation of that contract was not discussed in the meeting at the previous Cabinet meeting. The Minister of Home Affairs did brief Cabinet about the difficulties experienced and essentially what those discussions indicated was that the contract was provided to this company to provide and set up the Who Am I Online system. Numerous deadlines were missed and one of the key objectives of that contract was to make sure that we can have an electronic system ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, to make sure that we can begin to issue visas and also know who is coming to South Africa by checking the details of every person coming to this country, so the deadlines were missed. The Minister personally had meetings with the company to try and get them to take corrective measures to make sure that the contract was implemented and all indications were that the company had failed to meet the deadlines and that’s when the Department decided to cancel the contract.

Journalist: Is it fair to just hand some of the contract (not clear) - I mean it hasn’t been made public how much - to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for them to outsource to private companies who do IT work for them. Should it not have been cancelled and been put back out there on a public tender?

Themba Maseko: The issue of time and urgency was a primary consideration here and when the matter was discussed it was felt that SARS is a State entity and it had implemented a system that could actually perform the kind of work that Home Affairs wanted. So what Government is trying to do basically is to take the system that SARS is using, which it has used very efficiently and effectively, and implement that system in Home Affairs. We felt that because of the urgency of this project it was proper to allow SARS to implement the system now. The fact that SARS is actually using private companies to implement that system is a totally different matter which was not discussed in greater detail. What Cabinet has endorsed in principle was the need to implement the SARS system in Home Affairs and that is basically the decision here.

Journalist: So when will you take the public into your confidence regarding costs? We don’t know if there is going to be any savings; we don’t know how much SARS is paying its private companies. We know that the cost has escalated when the project was with Gijima to R4 billion but we have no idea if it is going to cost less than that now.

Themba Maseko: Let me say that after this briefing I will talk to the Minister of Home Affairs to see if a briefing can be done, but I can say at this stage that further investigations are still continuing on what actually happened. The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) has also taken an active interest in the matter and it is possible that in fact further details could be revealed when the Department of Home Affairs briefs Scopa about this particular contract. But there are further investigations going on.

Journalist: Any word from Cabinet on the Julius Malema disciplinary issue?

Themba Maseko: The Julius Malema matter is a party political matter. Julius doesn’t work for Government so there was absolutely no need for Government to discuss that matter.

Journalist: The ticket frenzy that greeted the last phase of ticket sales was actual chaos rather than frenzy. I wondered if Cabinet raised any concerns about the electronic support that was failing badly there.

Themba Maseko: The details of what happened on the first day of the ticket sales were not discussed at the meeting. As you are aware a number of Government Ministers are part of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and if there are any major concerns that need to be raised those Ministers will raise it there. But we are aware that on the first day there were indeed major hiccups which were sorted out and thousands of South Africans were subsequently able to buy their tickets. We believe it’s something that was identified by the LOC and FNB and they were able to deal with the problems on the very first day. Ticket sales were able to be smooth the very next day.

Journalist: I just want to check the AIDS testing or the campaign launched on Sunday. You say Cabinet members will lead the testing - does it include the President, will he have a public AIDS test on Sunday?

Themba Maseko: On Sunday we will see the President and the Deputy President and there maybe a few Ministers also present who will be conducting their tests publically. In the provincial launches all Ministers or a number of Ministers will also be availing themselves to be tested publically. The objective here is to encourage as many South Africans as possible to actually go and test so that they can know their status. And the reason for this is that the Minister of Health indicated that a number of African countries have indicated that when leaders were going publically to test for HIV/AIDS we saw millions of Africans in a number of countries in the continent also joining the campaign. So we want to lead by example by getting leaders - not just Government but also civil society - also testing publically and we think that this will encourage more South Africans to go and test so that they can know their status.

Journalist: The President - I think it was about three weeks ago - also had a test done at the Union Buildings. Isn’t this a bit odd to have another test, nothing wrong with that but I just don’t understand, are you sure that he will take another test on Sunday?

Themba Maseko: What the President is basically saying is that he personally wants to lead by example in this particular case. So when he conducted the test at the Union Buildings it was at a time when his diary was not yet confirmed whether he was going to be available during the launch, but now we know that he is available, and it was reported yesterday that he will also conduct a test at the launch.

Journalist: It’s been a while since you told us that the Ministerial Committee was reviewing the Ministerial Handbook and that they were also working on issues around authority measures in Government and all those things. When can we expect something out of it, when can we expect feedback from the Ministers - I think it was Finance and Public Administration and Performance Monitoring? Just on a different matter, South Africa and Brazil when President Zuma went for the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) Summit, it was announced that South Africa was almost a member of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). I just want to find out what’s the issue there, is South Africa a member of BRIC? Have we been formally accepted into that?

Themba Maseko: Formally we are not a member of BRIC. We are putting a lot of efforts into strengthening IBSA and we think IBSA has the potential of strengthening ties between South Africa, India and Brazil. We are starting to also interact with members of BRIC because we think that it’s a very important platform that we need to be part of. At this particular point in time there is no decision by BRIC not to include South Africa but there is an intention on our part to be part of that initiative so we are working hard as we are indicating in the statement. We are starting to have these interactions with members of BRIC separate from the formal BRIC structures and it’s our hope and expectation that over time as we demonstrate our value to these countries it is possible that South Africa could end up being part of that important forum of BRIC countries.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on austerity measures the committee is hard at work; I know that they already have a draft report which was meant to be tabled in Cabinet but the members of that committee felt that they needed to get more details from many other departments before they table the report so it’s still work in progress and I think that extensive progress had been made and it’s my expectation that over the next two weeks or so we may get a report from the IMC.

Journalist: Were there any discussions or concerns around a possible threat to the World Cup from rightwing groups?

Themba Maseko: The security report was not given at the meeting but I can tell you the Minister of Police is working very closely with a number of his colleagues from other countries. At this stage we are not aware of any specific threat against the World Cup but we will continue to interact with our partners from other countries and as you know we already have an agreement with Interpol who will be working with the South African Police Service during the World Cup to make sure we can deal decisively with any threats coming from whatever quarter. So at this stage we are confident that our security plan will make sure we avert any kind of threat against the World Cup.

Journalist: There was a report about how an Al Qaeda cell had talked about the games involving the United Kingdom and the United States, about how it would be nice if a bomb were to go off during one of those games. I mean those issues, don’t they worry Government? And on a different matter, the volcanic ash issue in Iceland, is Cabinet aware or have you been informed about how that has affected South African travellers and airlines? Are you concerned that perhaps if it continues like this it could affect attendance in the World Cup by fans themselves?

Journalist: As well with that question about possible compensation to South African Airlines, is that being considered?

Themba Maseko: At this stage no, not aware of any compensation. No specific report was given at the meeting yesterday about how many South Africans or how many travellers were affected by the volcanic ash but we are aware that the skies have been opened in Europe, so flights are back on track and our indications are that airlines would have actually dealt with the backlog in the next two or three weeks. By the time the World Cup starts it is expected that all the airlines would have been back on schedule. So at this particular point in time we do not think the volcanic ash will have a direct impact on the travellers wanting to come to South Africa.

The first question about threats from Al Qaeda, I’m not aware of any such threats; no such report was given to Cabinet but the answer still is that our police service and our intelligence are hard at work to make sure that we identify and deal with any threats whatsoever against the World Cup.

Journalist: Was there any discussion about Eskom and the Democratic Alliance (DA) leaking the document on the special tariffs?

Themba Maseko: No report was given, so unfortunately I can’t comment on that.

Journalist: Are you able to explain the rather dense paragraph about Broadband Infraco thing, I was struggling to understand it.

Themba Maseko: What that paragraph is about is that a direction was given to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to consider an application from Infraco Act, but that direction was given in terms of an act and the Broadband Infraco Act, and that direction would have limited ICASA’s ability to offer a much broader licence to Infraco. The correct licensing would have been to give this direction in terms of the Electronics Communications Act, so this is a technical correction which makes it possible for ICASA to then provide this licence to Broadband Infraco, so it’s just a technical correction. You know that Infraco is meant to provide broadband the network as a Government owned company to the rest of the country, to provide the backbone for broadband provision in South Africa and for them to do that they needed to be given a licence by ICASA and for ICASA to give that licence it had to get direction from the Department and that direction was given in terms of the wrong act, so we are just making this correction to make sure that ICASA can actually give the kind of licence that the Broadband Infraco company needs to provide this backbone. This is correcting a mistake, yes you can put it like that, I don’t know who made it but it’s a correction to make sure that the right direction is given to ICASA.

Journalist: We have seen some violent taxi strikes and the municipal workers strike in Gauteng. Was there any discussion on what Cabinet is going to do to prevent more strikes in the days leading to the World Cup, because these are violent and it doesn’t look good on television. Is Cabinet considering sitting down with COSATU or the unions to find some kind of solution because I think they will use these coming few weeks as a stage for them to protest?

Themba Maseko: Two points there, the one is that Government continues to interact with not just the labour movement but also civil society to try and get every South African to focus on this opportunity of hosting the world and marketing South Africa and Africa to the rest of the world so the need for us to begin to be driven by this vision of seeing the World Cup as an opportunity of a lifetime. So behaving in a manner that would actually take away from what we can provide through the World Cup is something that we are concerned about and we will continue to talk to all organs of civil society. Secondly the violence that characterises these protests and strikes is something that we continue to take very strong exception to and that is why we make the point in the statement that it’s essential especially when it’s adults who are involved in protest marches for them to thrash our cities, destroy property in a manner that sets a very bad example to our youngsters, is something that we find totally unacceptable and we will make a special call to all South Africans that whilst the Constitution and the Bill of Rights respects and encourages people to actually demonstrate peacefully, it is unacceptable to conduct yourself in a violent manner because I think this again takes away from the democracy that we have achieved as a nation and it teaches our youngsters that that is the way to solve problems. It is totally wrong and our citizens need to be discouraged from engaging in violent activities during protests because the focus shifts from dealing with the genuine grievances to the violence that is characterising a lot of these protests. So we are making a special plea to all citizens.

Journalist: Are you confident that the SABC is ready to broadcast the World Cup? Have you heard of any hiccups from them and the last question on Who Am I Online, we know that it was urgent that the project get completed in time for the World Cup but then why did Government wait until last week to cancel the contract? Why not cancel it last year already and the Independent democrats (ID) has set the value of the work that SARS will have to do is about R129 million and of course since that is going to be done by private companies that raises questions about tenders. When can we get this amount, the value of the work and why did Government wait till now?

Themba Maseko: I will speak to the Minister of Home Affairs and see how we can brief you on this matter, but let me just say it is not true that the contract was cancelled only last week. The announcement by the company was only made last week but the decision was taken quite a while back, a few weeks ago, and this was communicated to the company. Because the company is a listed company they had to make the statement public. You must understand that a new Minister is appointed and she wanted to apply her mind and the issues are very complex so she had to be certain before cancelling the contract that every possible step has been taken to implement corrective measures. The objective was not just to simply cancel the contract but to make sure that the service that we require for the World Cup is actually provided on time and that is why the decision was made. I can also indicate to you that SARS made it very clear that the cost of implementing this project will be at a much lower cost than the original amount that had been quoted by that company.

SABC readiness for broadcasting the World Cup, no report was given at the meeting but our information is that in fact that yes, SABC has signed contracts with FIFA and we expect them to be able to broadcast the World Cup according to those guarantees and commitments made.

Journalist: Themba can you give us an idea of what South Africa will put on the table or what its position on the way forward around climate change at that meeting?

Themba Maseko: The discussion took place at Copenhagen and we believe that the challenges facing developing nations actually need to be part of the discussion that is taking place there. The balance that needs to be struck is on the one hand the need for the developing nation to continue to grow while at the same time introducing measures to make sure that they can introduce climate friendly measures in their own countries. You know that the developing nations were actually pushing quite hard that all nations, especially developing nations, must immediately implement measures to have  climate friendly energy generated capacity but at this particular point in time we know that in fact  it may not be affordable for developing nations to immediately move toward climate friendly energy generation capabilities so we have to continue with our existing coal based fire station for example, while at the same time introducing measures to make sure that in producing electricity through coal we can introduce measure to make sure that the emissions are actually less than what they’ve been over the past couple of years. So it is about putting a plan that make sure that we respond to the climate changes requirements while at the same time making sure that  economic growth is not hampered.

Journalist: Has Cabinet not requested a report from Eskom around the whole Hitachi debacle call with Chancellor House to say what is the shareholder issue? I saw Hitachi explain it in their own press conference. Has Cabinet ever requested a report or express concern about Hitachi and the whole shareholding with Chancellor House and all this controversy?

Themba Maseko: That issue has not specifically discussed in Cabinet but the Minister of Public Enterprises has actually looked at that matter and is actually dealing with and if you refer to her budget speech, you will know that she expresses a clear opinion on the matter. The Minister of Finance has also raised the matter in a number of forums and what is becoming very clear is the need for this matter to be revisited from a policy perspective. It is something to be looked at because what you are essential dealing with at this particular point in time is a policy vacuum, firstly with regard to party political funding and secondly the extent to which political participate in public tenders.

Journalist: Has there been any type of official calls on unions to cease strikes and protests during the World Cup?

Themba Maseko: Specific answer to that question: no such call has been made at this particular point in time but one cannot rule the possibility of some kind of social pact that could be reached between Government and unions in the future. Okay colleagues thank you very much.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)