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

25 March 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 25 March 2010
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town


Journalist: Just on the issue of DG’s, the issue of exactly where DG’s are accountable, was that discussed? There has been that problem where you find that there is tension between DG’S 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 DG’s and Ministers, was that also discussed?

Themba Maseko: No it wasn’t discussed because it’s as clear as water. The DG’s are appointed by the President on recommendations of the Ministers and that is taken to a Cabinet process. The DG’s 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 DG’s 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 DG’s who are leaving the system is becoming a rolling door approach where DG’s actually in some cases, we have had Departments that had more than 8 DG’s 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 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 1 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 are the constraints 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 MP’s 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 NCOP is taking the Parliament to the people and in those sessions yes Government does participate in the form of Ministers. But the holding of MP’s 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 banning 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 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 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 is similarities in how these protests actually get off the ground. It’s been said there 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 4359 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 descendible in all these protest. We are aware for instance prior the here to the year leading to local Government election we turn to see a lot of protest taking place in various part 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 concern that exist in  communities when communities say they don’t have access to water there is potholes in various part of the cities. What do we do to address those concern because even if there was 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 concern of communities because local Government is proving to be the most important sphere of Government in the sense that it’s this sphere that interact with communities on a day to day basis so if their 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 Minister , you talking about Minister , you talking about deputy Minister, you talking about provincial executive council that is the MEC’s in all the provinces we want to see local Government particularly majors  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 event taking place it is not just Ministers. Whether this is part of electioneering for Local Government election we don’t think so when the discussion were taking place at cabinet that was not a factor considered at all it is of you that we are improving on existing program Izimbizo program to bring Government closer to the people. So we are initiating this thing yes it will coincide with Government election but that is not the primary objective to use this platform for electionoray there will not be party political events. There will be public event where the members of the public are expected to participate. If there is a member of the executive either provincial, national local Government level who belongs to another party they are equally going to be required to participate at these events.
They presidential coordination council meeting is a meeting where the president meet the premiers and the representative of SALGA to talk about how these 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 and 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 tender pronuity, build bridges in Limpopo that wash away, whether that would not build a community 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 cause Government has made it very clear that it will and is dealing with all incidence 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 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 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 the or izimbizo 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 to 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 cost of such events are not that much, it’s simply getting a venue and organise maybe snacks here and there, it 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 short answer to your question, 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 awl and they will face the consequences, but the matter was not discussed.

Journalist: You say the existing provisions regarding the management of exits 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 DG’s; those are 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 but no finality on it and 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 practice through legal cases has been that if you implement a restraint of trade you must pay that person for not using their skills. So it’s something that might have huge financial complications 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 World Cup and there is still no agreement with the taxi industry in place. The Minister of Transport had a meeting with 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 been fruitful, wants 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 Confederations Cup we had similar kinds of issues being raised by the industry bit 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 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 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 4250 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.

Themba Maseko: So that is actually going to happen if in those interaction it’s becoming increasingly clear that a particular major or official in a municipality not performing that is liking to lead to action and we have already seen examples of where national Government has gone to municipalities find problems and majors 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 turn around 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 we should be able to communicate with communities about our constrains 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 Imbiso is also been follow up people has said they don’t even know why they bother to go to these things because they say speak nothing happens. How you going to achieve a proper follow up of the four thousand plus meeting how many of them are once off meetings original meeting in a area and how many of them are following up meeting are they carried out over the whole year with regular feedback every 3 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 suppose 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 reach the state of collapse at this particular point and we acknowledge that there are problems and that is why the Minister of Corporative Governance was actually spending each and every day of his working life making sure that the strategy is implemented. The program that we talking about, in the past in the  Izimbizo all the community meeting would be a once off event and the Minister would come  talk and disappear and communities were always complaining that there were never feedback and issues are not resolve so part of what we implementing now is that every community meeting that is convey by  a Minister, Deputy Minister and MEC,Premier or Major 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 concern of communities so that is basically the plan not a once off visit but regular visit 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 GCIS will be doing is contacting the officers of every Minister, MEC, Mayor, counsellor in designing a program and designing a system to also give us feedback about what issues has been raised what steps are being taken that Government are 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 really feeling what kind of issues they want us attend to as Government and this is a system we will make sure that we also monitored and whether we are actually responding and giving feedback to communities no longer once off meeting there will be repeat meeting in communities.

Journalist: Just a follow up I mean how concerned is the cabinet now about the kind increase in the number of protest 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 concern and that is why Government is concerned and is putting emphasis on the turnaround strategy to make sure Government can respond in a systematic manner to all issue raised by communities so obviously we are concerned. We don’t want to see this demonstration especially during the world cup when countries 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 will not tolerate violence, same things were said last year when there were many of the protest happening are we going to see increase of law enforcement or action against the protest 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 road 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 NTA who had a strike this week in Cape Town and basically brought the whole cities taxi’s to a complete stand still. Is his approach to ignore the NTA and keep negotiating with SANTACO who is at self at log ahead with the NTA? How is he going to bring the NTA into this negotiation?

Themba Maseko: Well 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 taxi industry is concern. The issue was not specifically discussed yesterday.

Journalist: I just wonder whether there had been any communication from FIFA from the LOC received from FIFA. I mean just putting some pressure off raising flags about the situation generally I mean taxi’s on the one hand protest on the other the clock ticking?

Themba Maseko: Well I imagine that FIFA major preoccupation at this particular point in time is to make sure that all arrangements for the World Cup are in place at this particular point in time. 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 kind 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 is 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 calm the period leading to and during the world cup itself.

If there are no further questions, thank you very much for coming.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)