Transcript: Post Cabinet briefing by Themba Mseko, Government Spokesperson

2 September 2010

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 2 September 2010
Venue: Room 153, Union Buildings and video link-up to Imbizo Media Centre, 120 Plein Street, Cape Town


Journalist: Just on the Zimbabwean dispensation, you say the Zimbabwean nationals who are working will be given work permits - does this include informal work? And then what about the Zimbabwean nationals who cross the border without documents but who have been working here for a number of years, do they have to go back to Zimbabwe to get their documents and then return or will the Zimbabwean embassy be issuing documents and how will it work for all the Zimbabwean nationals in all the different cities? Thanks.

Themba Maseko: Governments are actually still finalising the arrangements if it is indeed possible for the Zimbabweans missions in the country to issue these permits. I think that would be acceptable and if Zimbabweans wish to go back home and actually get those documents back home, I think that will be acceptable as well. All Zimbabweans who are in the country, we are basically saying, need to be documented properly. They must produce their Zimbabweans documents and then they will be given permits in the country. I would imagine these permits will also apply to those who are doing informal work in the country and the real idea is here that the country needs to know who is in the country, do they have proper documents and those who are here illegally without any documents will be given the period between now and end of December to sort out their documentation with the Zimbabwean authorities and with Home Affairs and after that day anyone who doesn’t have any form of permit to be in the country will be deported. You will recall this special dispensation was put in place during the time when there was a political crisis in Zimbabwe and this decision was taken by the two Governments to allow free movements between the two countries, but we believe that some form of stability has returned to Zimbabwe and therefore all Zimbabweans will now be treated like any other foreign national.

Journalist: Against the background of the anger prevalent in the strike - the angry comments made by some of the union leaders and also comments by Ministers that a Mercedes Benz is a tool of the trade - does Government concede that it might have handled the discourse last year surrounding the buying of expensive official vehicles perhaps in a more sensitive manner? Did this contribute to the feelings that we are seeing at the moment?

Themba Maseko: Well, I think it that it would be too simplistic to suggest that the anger is as a result of buying of cars. We know that many citizens around the world are actually battling under the pressure of the economic crisis, there’s a lot of poverty and hunger and even those who are employed are battling to actually survive from day to day, so that is contributing to the anger. When it comes to the Ministerial Handbooks and which cars Ministers should buy, we have told you that there’s an Inter-Ministerial Committee that’s looking at all of these issues of expenditure by Government with a possibility of also reviewing the Ministerial Handbook, so when that reports comes back, I think we will be able to take decisions as Government on all of those issues.

Journalist: We have been hearing for months, I think almost a year now that this Inter-Ministerial Committee is busy reviewing Government expenditure, reviewing the Ministerial Handbook. When is this going to happen?

Themba Maseko: Well, it is going to happen; the report will be given to you in a short while. As I stated in the statement the Minister of Finance will be briefing, we will make an arrangement for him to actually speak to the nation about the financial situation in the country and hopefully during that briefing he will be able to give some indication about the work that has been done thus far and an indication of when the work of the committee will be completed. So the work is currently on the way.

Journalist: I wondered if you could be more specific on the Protection of Information Bill, does this mean that the ministry is actually looking at redefining or removing national interest.

Themba Maseko: Let’s put it this way, let’s not pre-empt what the Minister will say, he is studying all the submissions that have been made and he will be making a statement to the committee that is dealing with the Bill in Parliament, hopefully soon, to respond to a lot of the issues that will be raised. So at this stage he didn’t give a report about which issues he will be addressing but he will attend to all the issues that have been tabled and he will also given an explanation why the Bill was necessary, why the Bill was introduced and what sort of issues it is trying to address. I believe we should actually wait for that presentation to be made because it will give all the details that we are looking for.

Journalist: I would like you to comment on this scenario that labour has also objected to the budget and the budget deficit and Government’s view about inflation. Their labour demands is for Government to increase inflation and the budget deficit which Government thinks is a bad thing, but which actually falls within labour’s broader economic objectives. I don’t know whether that has been discussed and how you would respond to that, thanks.

Themba Maseko: An important question: this is what the Minister of Finance will try and address in his briefing, hopefully within the next few days. I spoke to him yesterday and he has agreed to actually find time to do a presentation on all of these issues, economic issues, debates between labour and Government about inflation and other policies that Government is implementing. So I would like to suggest that we wait for a few days to get an official Government position on all of those issues.

Journalist: I want some clarity on this additional R1.5 billion, is this in addition to the R5 billion you were talking about before, so is the wage bill now R6.5 billion more than what was provided for in the February Budget.

Themba Maseko: This R1.5 billion we are talking about is the additional salary bill to the salary bill, which will be the 0.5% that is added to the 7% and the extra hundred rands that’s been allocated for the housing subsidy. So yes, if you take a R5 billion which was an amount that it will cost the State if we are to give the 7% and the R700 housing allowances, plus the latest proposal on the table, the total cost to the taxpayer will indeed be somewhere around R6.5 billion. So R1.5 billion is for the additional 0.5% and the extra hundred rands that are being proposed in the Bargaining Council.

Journalist: The last time Cabinet briefed they said they haven’t even moved to even think about how much it will cost to reach an 8.6%. Do you know now how much if you move from 7.5% to 8.6% it would cost? My second question is, has Cabinet spoken about moving the negotiating process in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) within the time that Government discusses its budget so that it is not a constraint after the budget has already been approved. I think that is why it has been hard to move an offer for more than two weeks. Has that been discussed and why can’t it be changed the negotiation process.

Themba Maseko: The cost of the 8.6% salary increment and the R1 000 housing allowance: As I’m standing here I don’t wish to be in national treasury. The finance guys are doing the number crunching and when the Minister of Finance does a presentation he will be able to give the exact numbers of what it would cost the taxpayer if we are to accept the labour demands. What is important for us to note at this particular point in time is that the salary bill in the fiscus is actually accounting for up to 40c for each and every rand we collect as part of the tax revenue so it is something that we need to be worried about because we are saying this will have a major impact on Government’s ability to fulfil its electoral mandate of building houses, building schools, employing more teachers, buying textbooks, etc. So that is what we are putting on the table here and we believe we have done enough to explain this dilemma to the union leaders and they fully understand that. Changing the negotiating period: those are some of the issues that have been discussed in the Bargaining Council, Government is actually open to that discussion, it is taking place as we speak, so it is possible. One of the issues that the unions are raising is that part of the problem is that the negotiations take place after the Budget has been finalised, the implementation of the new package is the 1st of July instead of the beginning of the financial year. So part of this draft proposal in the Bargaining Chamber is that in this financial year if there is a deal signed, hopefully in the next few hours the salary improvement for this year will be the 1st of July 2010 but in 2011 the implementation date of the new package may move to the 1st of May and in 2012 the implementation date may actually be moved to the 1st of April. So this has major financial implications for the State but we are also saying as part of our demonstration of a genuine commitment to actually address the concerns of our employees we are prepared to consider all of those options, including reviewing the period of negotiations to try and find some alignment between the negotiation process and the budgeting process. We have to bear in mind that in achieving that alignment we still have to make sure that you don’t have a situation where your salary bill ends up being more than 50c for each and every rand that we collect because again the nation needs to understand what the implication of such a decision will be, because it means there will be less money to do many of the other things that we will actually need to do. The teachers may actually end up with fewer textbooks in the classroom to teach and that’s what we are trying to explain when we are saying we experiencing financial constraints.

Journalist: I don’t think the unions understand when you speak about the lack of funds that are available. If they don’t accept the revised offer what is the next step for Government?

Themba Maseko: At this stage the discussions, despite the public spats that you have seen over the past few days, there has been discussions behind closed doors between Government negotiators and the unions and in those situations we have actually been able to put all the facts on the table which we believe is absolutely essential in any negotiating process. The proposal that is before the Bargaining Council at this particular point in time is a proposal emanating from those discussions with the unions. Now the difficulty that all of us are facing, and this is part of the dilemma all of us are experiencing, is that whilst the leaders of unions and Government negotiations understand the pressures and constraints on both sides, there is a real challenge that the union leaders are not able to persuade their members to actually accept the proposal on the table and that is the challenge we are experiencing at this particular point in time. I would like us to give the negotiators the opportunity to conclude the talks. The unions are meeting this morning, they will be meeting again later today, they will be talking to Government negotiators and we remain optimistic that in fact we will find each other. We think that finding a win-win solution is just as imperative for the nation as a whole and I am sure that even the union leaders will be able to say to their members we have done our best, now because we are elected leaders, accept our recommendation to accept this proposal that is on the table. The proposal on the table is a joint proposal by Government negotiators and union negotiators, so we believe that something is going to have to give and that is essentially an acceptance that in fact the negotiations have been taking place in good faith from both sides and there is no point in anyone pointing fingers at anybody at this stage because negotiations have done their very best to find a settlement.

Journalist: speaking off the microphone

Themba Maseko: If there’s still a rejection of the proposal in the Bargaining Council, Government will have to reconvene and see what the next steps are but at this stage we are pinning our hopes that the unions and the members will accept the proposal that’s on the table.

Journalist: The last time, I think two weeks ago you spoke about KwaZulu-Natal being a good example of implementing saving measures, no end-of-year parties, and no increases, stuff like that. Have there been any other provinces that have actually followed suit to show that we are cutting costs here and there, any at all? My second question is, does Cabinet think that the strike is more than just about wages for public servants? That there might be something more to the strike action?

Themba Maseko: Well, we don’t have a report on the latest steps taken by provinces but I can tell you for certain that as and when this agreement is signed, it is not going to be business as usual for any government department, provinces, municipalities, national departments, because we are going to go out and find R6.5 billion, so there will be clear instructions given to government departments about what steps need to be taken which include for instance the possibility of freezing all vacant posts in government departments, reducing goods and services, reducing dramatically travel costs in government departments. So there is going to be a hardened approach from Cabinet to all Ministers and Directors-General (DGs) to say reduce expenditure because there isn’t money available on the table. A direct answer to your question, we don’t have any latest information about what other provinces are doing. Whether the strike is more than just a labour dispute, we have seen comments from a variety of parties, including some union leaders making some statements, but our view is that this is essentially a labour dispute between the State and its employees and it should remain that. Opportunities must be given for union leaders to actually continue talking to the State as the employer to find an amicable solution to the impasse, whether other players or political players see this is a political battle, I think unions and Government will leave that to the political analysts who continue that debate. As far as we are concerned this is nothing but a labour dispute between Government and its employees.

Journalist: The South African Communist Party (SACP) Secretary-General, Blade Nzimande suggested that perhaps salaries at the top end of Government have to be frozen until the people at the bottom catch up. What is the view within Cabinet? Are they willing to freeze the salaries until teachers and nurses catch up?

Themba Maseko: We have noted the comments made by the Secretary-General of the Communist Party. No decision has been taken on that particular matter in Government. You will be aware that the salaries of public representatives, particularly ministers, judges and members of Parliament are determined or recommended by an independent panel chaired by a judge. That panel makes this recommendation to the President and the President actually makes the final decision on what salary adjustments need to be given to political representatives and other State employees. The salaries of senior managers in Government are not part of this bargaining process; they are determined separately by Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA). So no decision has been taken on that particular issue.

Journalist: At the beginning of the strike the point was made that the principle of no work no pay would apply. Is this up for any sort of discussion in any sort of agreement that you might reach? If not, how this is calculated given that not everybody in every sector strike for the same amount of time. Who keeps record of this and how do you in the end calculate it?

Themba Maseko: The principle of no work no pay is a well-accepted documented principle not just in this country but all over the world so when members of staff withdraw their labour, be it in Government or public sector or private sector, they fully understand that their pay would be deducted. So in this particular case the principle of no work no pay will be implemented. As far as I’m aware there isn’t any discussion or debate about whether or not this principle could be implemented. I can tell you that in the past, unions at the end of the strike always come back and say can we negotiate a period of deductions but that is something that is subject to discussion and negotiations. The principle is accepted by both Government and labour so it will be implemented. The process simply is that each and every Department keep records of all employees who are absent during this period and registers are kept, documents are submitted and in the system there is a way of actually docking the pay of those who were absent from work during this period of the strike. So it’s a very simple and clear process.

Journalist: You say the salaries of senior managers are determined separately by the DPSA. Can you clarify what senior managers are those? Are they DGs and how much did they get this year and the public servants wage increase, up to what level does that go. What does the highest manager get?

Themba Maseko: What’s been negotiated at the moment is the salaries of all state employees from deputy director downwards. The senior managers service is essentially from director upwards - directors, chief directors, deputy directors-general and DGs - those are determined separately; they are not part of this agreement. The salaries of the senior managers are determined by DPSA. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, we who are part of this senior management service don’t have a union, so there are no negotiations with us. What DPSA normally does is - and I’m not threatening to strike or anything like that, I’m just giving you the information - w hat DPSA does is basically to implement a scale that is similar to what is given to public servants. So if the other public servants are given 7% or 7.5% the likelihood is that DPSA may actually give the same increment for senior public servants. Again let me make it very clear no decision has been made at this particular point in time about the salary increase to be given to senior managers in the public service.

Journalist: I want to ask you about Zimbabwe or the agreement with Zimbabwe. Is this a drive to legalise all Zimbabweans who are currently in South Africa whether they are legally here or illegally, to legalise their stay? So in other words whether you have a fraudulent South African identity document or whether you are here without anyone knowing. Does this amnesty mean and all these measures, does this mean each and every Zimbabwean right now in South Africa will be legally here if they adhere to these conditions?

Themba Maseko: What we are moving towards in this regard is essentially making sure that every person who is in the Republic - within the borders of the Republic - is here legally. We know who they are, we can record them, they have proper documentation and that documentation essentially means you either have a permit to be here or some kind of document that allows you to be here. So this agreement basically says all Zimbabwean nationals who are in this country, their presence here must be regularised, meaning that they must have proper legal documents from their country of origin which is Zimbabwe and secondly they must then apply for permits that allows them to be in South Africa legally. So that everyone who is in the country can be here legally. That’s essentially what it means so this agreement tightens a regime between South Africa and the Zimbabwean authorities with regard to Zimbabwean citizens who are in the country and the idea is the same in the statement to make sure that we actually extend this arrangement to all foreign nationals who are within our borders so that we can begin to have everybody properly documented. We can have their fingerprints so that if somebody commits a crime we can actually know who that person is because we will have their documents and they will be on the system in terms of fingerprints. So this will also begin to give us a better sense of how many foreign nationals are within our borders and what is their status.

Journalist: There is something I don’t understand in your statement, it says here on page 3 at the bottom that those who return the illegal documents will be issued with a relevant permit. So this to me means that if you have an illegal South African document, once you return that document you will automatically receive a legal or relevant permit to stay in South Africa, otherwise if I don’t understand this correctly, please explain to me what this means.

Themba Maseko: It is very clear, basically it is illegal for anybody to be in possession of a fraudulent document, be they South African or foreign nationals. So what this is saying is that there is some indication that some Zimbabwe nationals are in the country and they have also may have acquired illegal documents such as your South African identity document, so we are saying return these documents, we know who you are, start making sure that you get your Zimbabwean documents and then when you have your Zimbabwean documents we will then clarify what is your status in this country and having clarified that status we then issue you with a relevant permit. So if you were in the country illegally and you have a job, you must have a work permit, if you don’t you get deported. If you are in the country and you are a student and there is no document, you don’t have a Zimbabwean document or a South African permit to be a student here, you must apply for that study permit, if you don’t you will get deported. That’s simply put, that’s what this thing means. It’s to regularise all Zimbabwean citizens who are in the country.

Journalist: I think the question that Liezil is asking, is surely what you are listing is the law as is. What is different or is this some sort of amnesty or what? What has changed, what prompts Government to put out a statement like this is if it is merely stating the fact as is? Or what has changed and is this an amnesty?

Themba Maseko: Let’s start at the beginning. If you look at the statement, we are saying the special dispensation that was put in place during the political crisis in Zimbabwe was to allow free movement of Zimbabweans into the country to come and live, work, study, start businesses here without requiring a permit. So that special dispensation is being withdrawn and in withdrawing that special dispensation we are saying between now and the end of December, all Zimbabweans who are here must do two things: one make sure that you have proper documents from your country of origin, two make sure that you apply for a permit to be in this country. So in a sense we are now applying the normal South African law, we are saying it will now apply even to Zimbabwe as of the 1st of January next year. So they will now be regularised; they will be given permits so that nobody is here without a permit. Is that clear? You are right in saying we are reverting to applying the normal laws of the country, and we are pulling out this special dispensation that was put in place for Zimbabwean citizens.

Journalist: Government is giving the estimated millions of Zimbabweans just four months to get proper legal documents from their country of origin but you don’t even know how they are going to do this? There doesn’t seem to be a plan saying that you know the Zimbabwean embassy will open offices in every town and try and give people those documents and that there will still be time for them to apply for work permits. It seems likely to me that on the 1st of January 2011, we could see a spectacle of thousands of Zimbabweans being deported. What is your comment on that?

Themba Maseko: We will brief the Department of Home Affairs today after this briefing and make sure that they explain the logistics of how this system will actually be implemented. As I have told you there is a Joint Committee that will be put in place. If there is a need to open special offices in different parts of the countries, I’m sure that the committee will look into it. I will refer you to Home Affairs to actually give you the details of how this system will actually apply. What Cabinet did was to approve the policy decision and that is what we are explaining here today, so if you need details about how it will be implemented on a day to day basis we will get Ronnie Mamoepa to be available to answer your questions.

Journalist: It seems quite astonishing. The first thing, if a Zimbabwean has illegal documents, the chances of Home Affairs catching him are extremely remote. How does Government think, it is like the gun amnesty, criminals aren’t going to hand in their guns and illegal Zimbabweans are not going to hand in their illegal documents. Surely it’s a pointless exercise.

Themba Maseko: No it’s not a pointless exercise, the Department of Home Affairs has measures and procedures in place for identifying and detecting people who are in the country illegally and that involves the normal policing arrangements. If someone is found in the street to be a Zimbabwean without a document, they get arrested. At this particular point in time, because of this dispensation, nothing can be done to them, they can’t be deported because of the special dispensation that is in place. What this decision says as of the 1st of January 2011, all Zimbabweans will be treated like any other illegal immigrant who are in the country. So if somebody is arrested or found to be working in a place without the proper documentation they will be deported. At this particular point in time foreign nationals from Zimbabwe who are either studying or working in South Africa without any form of documentation, without any permit, we can’t do anything to them because of this special dispensation. So we are withdrawing this special dispensation and calling upon them to abide by the law in making sure that they apply for the permits. If they don’t apply, this amnesty or this special dispensation falls away and if caught they will be arrested and deported back to their country like is the case with any foreign national in this country. So there is nothing sinister about this position we are announcing here today, it is something that is already in place for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally from any other country. So we are regularising it. As of the 1st of January 2011 all Zimbabweans will be treated like any other foreign national, that’s essentially what you need to understand.

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss the suspension by the Portfolio Committee of Defence on the deliberations around the Defence Amendment Bill which came as a result of the slight difference of opinion between that committee and the Minister of Defence which will now obviously lead to the delay of the passage of that Bill?

Themba Maseko: That matter was not discussed specifically but the position of Cabinet is very clear, the Minister of Defence still has a draft report and in the meeting between the Minister of Defence, the Speaker of Parliament, the chair of the Portfolio Committee and the leader of Government, there was an acceptance and agreement that there is no need to take this matter any further because the Minister of Defence made a commitment that she will expedite the process of finalising that report, bring it to Cabinet for discussion and then tabling it before Parliament. So all the parties are in agreement that the way forward is for the Cabinet process to be expedited, so there was no need for Cabinet to re-discuss that matter yesterday.

Journalist: Has the reports then not been tabled before Cabinet?

Themba Maseko: It was not tabled at the Cabinet meeting yesterday but I’m sure it will be tabled in the next cycle of committees and tabled at the next Cabinet meeting.

Journalist: Themba you said something interesting. A while back you said the senior managers in Government, their increases are determined by the DPSA. Shouldn’t it be then because of a shortage of funds and because of the demand at a lower level of Government that senior managers and up to the Ministers and even the President should perhaps maybe forfeit these increases to save money?

Themba Maseko: I’m saying it is an opinion that you can express but all I am saying is that there is no decision on that matter as we speak. So when that issue comes up, I am sure decisions will be taken but at this particular point in time there is no decision to freeze the salaries of senior managers or even political leaders in Government. No decision taken yet on that matter.

Journalist: Do you have any indication how many Zimbabweans in South Africa have the relevant documentation? Have Home Affairs given you any indication of that?

Themba Maseko: No, that number was not given at the meeting yesterday but again we can facilitate for you to get that information from Home Affairs, but we don’t have that information at the moment.

Journalist: A follow up question about the Ministry of Defence. To the best of my understanding and of my recollection the Minister of Defence is contradicted by what you are saying now in that she has told the Portfolio Committee and this was in an open session, so I will just go back on whether my information is correct. She has said that this is already before Cabinet, that you would know the Portfolio Committee has taken a decision not to continue with the Defence Amendment Bill until they have received the relevant things they are waiting for. The Minister of Defence told them about two or three weeks back, but certainly told them this is already before Cabinet. You are contradicting that at the moment.

Themba Maseko: Let me repeat what I just said, the final report has not yet been tabled before Cabinet. The meeting took place yesterday and no such report was tabled. In the understanding reached between the Minister of Defence the Speaker of Parliament, the leader of Government business and the chair of the committee, there was an agreement that the Minister will table the report to Cabinet as soon as possible so that Cabinet can deliberate on that report before it’s submitted to Parliament. Those are the facts and that is what we said in our Cabinet statement two weeks ago, so you can actually go back and check your facts. That is the state of play as far as that issue is concerned.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)