Transcript: Post Cabinet briefing by Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson

05 August 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 05 August 2010
Venue: Room 153, Union Buildings and video link-up to Imbizo Media Centre


Journalist:  I have three questions. The first is how is the Labour Relations Act progressing in its new form? Then secondly whether this Rural Development Amendment Act had at address the willing buyer willing seller issue? And thirdly whilst Government feel that everybody who is within our borders must be safe whether Cabinet has anything to say about the arrest yesterday of our colleague Mzilikazi wa Africa?

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss all the developments within the Communication Department and propose ways that might resolve outside court and does it have any views on this matter?

Themba Maseko:  Okay let’s deal with those questions. The Bills that are included in the statement are the only Bills that have been attended to thus far. As far as I am aware the new draft Labour Relations Act has not been served before Cabinet but we can try and get information for you about the timeframe for submission of that Bill.  The Rural Bill included in the statement deals with the technical amendment that is stated here. At this stage my initial checking of the Bill it does not include the willing buyer, willing seller story but we can check it and get back to you during the course of the day.

The arrest of the journalist unfortunately the story broke when Cabinet was in session so the matter never served before Cabinet I cannot express a Cabinet view on the matter at this stage.

Linda your question about Department Of Communication, the issue between the Minister and the Director General: the matter did not serve before Cabinet as you may be aware. If there are issues between Minister and Director General those matters are dealt with outside of Cabinet meetings. It’s a matter that usually is dealt with the Minister concerned, the Minister of Public Service and Administration and the Presidency’s office. It’s dealt with outside of Cabinet processes. No discussion took place on the matter at the meeting yesterday.

Journalist: Curios thing why is Government approving a T20 Cricket Tournament surely that is only to do with Cricket South Africa and the International Cricket Board and has virtually nothing to do with Government?

Themba Maseko: Well all major tournaments that take place in the country have to come through Cabinet for formal support and endorsement because as you know the organiser of these international matches often come to Government to request certain types of guarantees and the Minister of Sport is not in a position to offer any types of guarantees unless a request has been formally approved by Cabinet. That is why a lot of these conference and international tournaments have to come to Cabinet for final endorsement. If something were to go wrong in any of the tournaments as an example Government is held accountable to explain what actually happened so that is why it is a established practise that all of these need to come to Cabinet for formal support and endorsement.

Journalist: Just a bit more on the Rural Development and Land Reform General Amendment Bill. Do you know when it’s likely to be made public? And then just as a sort of corollary on that because I am sure you going to say ask the Ministry, there’s been a sort of trend where we had a Bill being approved then it seems that they have been taken away then there deadlines are not being met this particular Bill I think, the public viewing has been delayed twice. Is there a little bit of concern about perhaps there is a need just to tighten the drafting process of some of the legislative to stop these kind of delays from happening?

Themba Maseko:  Drafting of Bills is a fairly tight process a Department draft a Bill it takes it to the State Law advisors who look at the Bill and check whether a particular Bill comprise with the constitution as soon as that is done it’s then brought to Cabinet for discussion. And the real discussion takes place in the Cabinet committees where extensive discussion takes place. Now a Bill is either approved for public comment or for tabling in Parliament. If a Bill is published for public comment before going to Parliament then what Cabinet basically say is that it wants to get feedback from the public about the Bill before it is submitted to Parliament. But if a Bill is submitted directly to Parliament the Portfolio Committee then look at the Bill call for public comments on a particular Bill before the Bill can actually be signed off as a piece of legislative that is a process. What is build into the process and something that we all should be proud of is the fact that the public is given the opportunity to comment on any Bill before it is finalised. I think that those in our view constitute sufficient checks and balances to make sure that we do not pass Bills that do not have the support of the public.

Journalist: Just a couple of simple questions. First with the Capital Inflow Tax that is being considered by the African National Congress, has this department had any views on that? And also with the Public SectorWorkers strike did the Cabinetexpress any views on that? And is it also seeking to impose unilaterally the pay increase as offered by the Ministry?

Themba Maseko: The Capital Inflow Tax is a proposal from the ruling party at this stage and the way I understand the process is that the proposal goes to a policy conference of the ruling party and if it is endorse there in the policy conference then it will brought into the Government process. At this particularly point and time there has not been any discussion of that proposal within the Government system. We won’t be able to comment on that at this particular point in time.

As far as the Public Sector strike our concern as Government as this particular point in time is the possible disruptive effect of the strike. Especially as it relates to schooling and the health sector. You will be aware that scholars have just come out of a 5 week long school holiday as a result of the World Cup and if there were to be another strike at this particular point in time we think that in fact that will course irreparable damage to the schooling years especially for the learners so we are concerned about that.

Journalist: I just want to ask for clarity, you talking about Cabinet new Techno progress the country has made. Can you just elaborate on that, what kind of progress are we talking about?

Themba Maseko:  We’ll you recall that just before and during the World Cup there were lots of stories and rumours circulating that immediately after the World Cup there will be whole scale attack on foreign nationals living within our borders and we took those threats very seriously even though we knew at the time that these were just mere rumours, so we took these rumours very seriously. The Government reconstituted the Inter ministerial Committee on xenophobia to start developing strategies to deal with any possible eventualities but it was our view right from the beginning that in fact that what we are likely to experiencing are criminal elements to take advantage of the situation by attacking foreign nationals and therefore a security plan was put in place immediately to identify the hotspots and make sure that we deal with any possible attacks on foreign nationals of xenophobia and we believe that we have not seen any white scale attacks on foreigners. It a is clear indication that firstly those are mere rumours and secondly that the plan (security) that we put in place actually did well to avert any possibilities of white scale attacks on foreign nationals. We can also indicate that members of the public here have also played a key role by distancing themselves from the attacks on foreign nationals because we have just hosted a very successful World Cup which welcomed citizens from all over the world to come and enjoy the World Cup within our borders. We believe that in fact the majority of South Africans have stood up and said we do not support the attacks and these are the progress we are talking about here.

Journalist: Just going to back to the issue with the Department of Communication with the Director General. Could you just deliberate a little more on the dismissal process of a Director General, Cabinet approval needed to dismiss one for instance and then secondly has the Department of Home Affairs indicated when they are going to present a Child Pornography Bill to Cabinet. The Deputy Minister indicated that he was going to fast track one through. Thank you. (Another question was not clear)

Themba Maseko: Let me handle the last question first, the Department of Home Affairs has indicated that they are working on the Bill but this has not yet served before the Cabinet process. We are unfortunately unable to say when the Bill will come as soon as they are ready they will bring it to a Cabinet process and it will be processed accordingly. So at this stage I am not able to give you timeframes on that one.

The process for dismissal of Director General’s, the process normally would be, Cabinet does not get involved in the dismissal of Director Generals. It is a matter between the Minister concerned, the Director General, the President’s Office and the Minister for Public Service and Administration. So if there’s a dispute or a conflict between the Director General  and the Minister, the matter is then tabled for discussion primarily with the President and with the involvement with the Minister of Public Service and Administration and if the Department of Public Service and Administration and the President agreed that the relationship between the Director General  and a Minister has broken down to a point that it could have an impact on service delivery then an agreement is reached and a decision is taken about the future or the fate of the Director General  concerned, so that is how the process actually happens, it doesn’t come back to Cabinet.

Journalist: I know you were not aware of Mzilikazi’s arrest but with the huge amount of response that you have had with the Protection of Information Bill, did Cabinet discussed that in any form at all across the level or were the whole issue of control of the media not discussed in any form at all? The other is more of a comment, I was wondering whether Cabinet discussed the thing the signing of the performance agreements or the delivery agreements with Ministers that has taken 17 months it’s nearly a third of this Government’s term, is that the kind of pace we are expecting from this Government was there any discussion about that, how you are going to accelerate the process of actually doing something?

Themba Maseko: The first question on the arrest of the journalist and generally the climate in the media environment what we can state without any reservation here is that there is no intention or a plan on the part of this Government to muzzle the media in any shape or form, so that needs to be made clear. What Cabinet discussed yesterday was a need for some interaction to take place between Government and senior editors to just explain what is really happening. We understand that a lot of the developments taking place currently, the Protection of Information Bill, the proposal of a media tribunal the arrest of the journalist recently all of these things are contributing to a climate where a perception could be made that there is a Government plan to muzzle the media but I just want to make it very clear that there isn’t such a plan on part of Government but what needs to happen is a interaction a dialogue that needs to take place between editors, media on your own or as in Government to just understand the context, understand where Government is coming from. With these proposals on the table is for Government to also hear the views of media owners and the editors to just find some understanding of what is happening because we all agree that it’s unhealthy for a perception to exist that Government is on a mission to actually muzzle the media in any form or shape which actually is not true. So we are of the view that a conversation needs to take place between Government, media owners and editors to just understand each other’s concerns about the current situation without necessarily pointing fingers at Government as planning to muzzle the media in any way. So on that issue we are anticipating that meeting will take place at the level of the President and some of his Ministers with editors and media owners to just try to find some understanding about the developments that are taking place in the country.

Delivery agreements and the pace of finalising these, what we also need to explain as Government is that these delivery agreements are essentially amounting to a major change in the way Government is actually functioning. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the work of Government has stopped working for the delivery agreements to take place. The work of Government is continuing. The priorities determined by Government have actually been continuing. What has actually been taking place which has caused the delay is basically reformulating the Government program of action, becoming more focused on the priorities that have been set by Government and we acknowledge that this has taken a long time but what the President wanted Ministers to do is to take a program of action and translate it into a detailed work plan that applies the clear targets that we want to achieve in the 12 areas that we have identified, setting up the outputs that we are hoping to achieve with broader outcomes at the end of the day, resulting what is now going to be called the delivery agreements. Now you would know that in the past the Government program of action was finalised at national level and provinces and municipalities were simply expected to participate and support the process, with these delivery agreements what is taking place is that we had to sit down with Ministers to say identify concrete steps that are you going to be taking, secondly identify all the key role players who would make it possible for you as a Minister to achieve your objectives as agreed to in your performance agreement with the Minister. So it meant elaborate discussions with provinces, municipalities to make sure that when the delivery agreements are signed each and every sphere of Government understands what its role is going to be to make sure that those outcomes are actually achieved. So I’m acknowledging here that it has taken long but let’s not assume that because we are finalising the agreements the work of the Government is not taking place it has been taking place, it has been accelerated but it’s there the repackaging of the work of Government in the form of delivery agreements that would make it possible for the President to monitor delivery and performance but most importantly for members of the public as well to understand what exactly Government wants to achieve over the medium term expenditure framework period. So that is what is taking so long.

Journalist: I want to know this proposed meeting between Government and editors, when will this take place and who is going to organise it? Will it be the President’s office or which Minister will then take the responsibility for this? To get back to the Rural Development Bill, where can we get it as of today and what is happening to the Green Paper on rural development?

Themba Maseko: The meeting with editors and media owners will be organised under the auspices of the President’s office, Minister Chabane will be the lead Minister in that regard. It will involve the President himself and the Deputy President and a number of Cabinet Ministers, no timeframes has been set. We have been given the responsibility to start making contact with the media owners and media editors to start facilitating the meeting but our sense is that this meeting needs to take place sooner rather than later to just quell the negative mood that’s existing in the media space, so we think that meeting will take place sooner.

The Bill, the process with Bills is that they come through Cabinet, they get approved and the next step is for the law advisors to check it again before it’s send to Parliament. At a point when it is sent to Parliament it becomes a public document so that will be made public. I can’t give you the timeframe exactly but it’s a matter of a week or two and the Bill will be made public.

The Green Paper no report was given at the meeting so unfortunately I can’t tell you what the timeframe for releasing that paper is.

Journalist: Getting back to the xenophobia, in the run up to the elections there is a possibility that this might surface again, is this is something Cabinet is taking note of and will this Inter Ministerial Committee continue indefinitely?

Themba: Maseko: There is again no evidence suggesting before elections there will be xenophobic violence. The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) is in place as I stated in the statement, it will continue to monitor the situation throughout the country. We know that incidence of xenophobia tends to take place in certain limited areas. Let’s not create the impression again that these xenophobic incidence take place throughout the country, it’s in particular hotspots so we are watching those places to make sure that if there is any possibility, any threat we can deal with it decisively without any waste of time. Yes the IMC will continue to exist to monitor developments and our security forces will always be on alert to watch out for any possible incidence of violence.

Journalist: In the last ten days or so there have been five or six brutal murders of couples I think a journalist and his wife were butchered and locked up in their toilet in Natal and a murder of a couple in the South Coast, what makes the Michelle murder notable for Cabinet?

Themba Maseko: What Cabinet discuss is your current events in the past week leading to Cabinet so the reason why this is receiving particular prominence is just the brutality, if you have been following the story that was metered out to the toddlers, strangled. At this particular point in time we do not have the details but it is possible that the two toddlers were actually strangled in front of their mother, the mother was then taken out of the house, murdered, dumped in an open field, and this happens right on the eve of Women’s Month that Government is launching. All of these factors made Cabinet to take note and say it’s totally unacceptable that such brutality could be metered out to toddlers and an innocent young woman but at the same time this is an indication that we are taking the murders, the crimes committed against South African citizens very seriously. We just highlighted this as an example of a case that took place a few days ago during the week leading the Cabinet. It’s no indication that we are choosing cases, we just think that the brutality metered out just on the brink of Women’s Month is something that required the attention of Cabinet.  As you can see we are not just dealing with that particular case, we are also dealing with the case of the 22 elderly people who died in the Old Age Home Ekurhuleni and these are again incidence that took place just before Cabinet meetings. Those are the kinds of issues that Cabinet tend to deal with that is incidence that take place the week leading to Cabinet meeting.  

Journalist: What exactly the status of the Media Tribunal, is it still as an ANC proposal or will the President discuss it the senior editors shaping up to Government Policy at this point?

Themba Maseko: The Media Tribunal proposal is still a Policy discussion in the Ruling Party. It has not yet formally served as a concrete proposal from Government. My understanding of the process is that the proposal will be taken to the Policy Conference of the Ruling Party, it will be debated there and if its supported it may then serve as a formal policy proposal within Government structures and systems but in the interaction between Government and editors and media owners it’s quite possible that the issue could actually come up and the media representatives may want to table their concerns in the discussion with Government. At this particular point in time it’s not yet a formal policy proposal within Government but it may become so once it’s approved by the Policy Conference of the Ruling Party.

Journalist: The way you described the kind of unhealthy perception on the part the media that they are being muzzled is as if Cabinet is of the opinion that there is some kind of misunderstanding. You say there needs to be a dialogue between media owners, editors and Government just to understand the context; could you please describe exactly what the context is?

Themba Maseko: I am sure these are the kind of context that you journalists are writing about precisely. The context I am talking about is: firstly there is a Protection of Information Bill that is being debated in Parliament, it’s not yet law, its being debated there and a lot of the submissions especially from the media are indicating that the Bill amounts to muzzling of the media. The second issue is the proposal for a Media Tribunal that needs to be set up, it’s a proposal from the Ruling Party, media organisations, journalists and other NGO’s have expressed their own opinions on this particular issue that’s part of the context. The arrest of the journalist yesterday again part of the context, so we believe that one of the things that need to take place is that even if there are debates and different views its essential for a conversation to exist between Government and senior leaders in the media so that we do not end up being on opposing sides as if we are actually enemies. Government does not consider media as enemies but it also believes that there needs to be serious engagement on issues that the media is really concerned about. So we are open for that conversation to take place to make sure that in fact there is at least some understanding of why and where things are going the way they are going. There have been conversations between Government and editors for many years. Editors have always been given the opportunity to express their concerns to Government and that has not happened over the past few months and we think that convening such a meeting as soon as possible will create a platform for media editor, owners to actually come to the tale and raise their concerns directly with Government.

Journalist: The Film and Publication Amendment Bill left out the exemption for news media; the Protection of Information Bill contains the threat of lengthy periods of imprisonment if you expose Government documents. Seen together they are definitely on free press. Did these clauses in these two pieces of legislation get there by accident?

Themba Maseko: At this stage I can assure you that there is no clause that goes into a Bill by accident there is a lengthy process that looks at each and every clause in detail in Cabinet committee meetings. So whatever clause you are seeing in this piece of legislation was not there by accident however through the public hearings process through interaction between Government and the media it may very well be that some new understanding could be reached and there could be some amendment to a Bill. If you use the Film and Publication Bill as a classical example the Bill was tabled, there were extensive discussions between media and Government and those interactions led to some amendments of that Film and Publication Bill which is a clear demonstration that Government is always willing to engage with the media on clauses that the media believe are a major hindrance to press freedom. So let’s allow the process to take its cause let the meeting with the Ministers and editors take place and let’s see what happens.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)