Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing

10 October 2008

Date: Thursday, 9 October 2008
Venue: Room 153, Union Buildings, Pretoria (with video-link to Cape Town)
Time: 10:00

Statement read by Themba Maseko-

Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Pretoria yesterday, 8th October 2008.

Cabinet received a detailed report on the limited outbreak of the suspected hemorrhagic fever in Gauteng which has claimed three lives. Firstly, Government wishes to convey condolences to the families and friends of the deceased. Cabinet is satisfied that the health authorities and health professionals have responded quickly, appropriately and with the highest levels of professionalism to contain the suspected virus.

The meeting was satisfied that the Department of Health, together with health professionals and experts from both the public and private sectors, were doing all that is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and to ensure that there is no further loss of life. All South Africans must take comfort in the fact that our health professionals are skilled and ready to deal with any emergency.

The National Outbreak Response Team (NORT) is actively working around the clock to support the Provincial Outbreak Response Teams with guidelines, active field surveillance and the tracing of contacts. A Rapid Response Team (RRT) has been established, consisting of public and private health sector representatives, to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the situation promptly. This team meets on a daily basis to co-ordinate responses and to constantly monitor the situation in all our hospitals and clinics.

Government is already working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in order to access their global expertise in dealing with outbreak responses. The CDC has undertaken to expedite the processing of samples to ensure that test results are made available as quickly as possible.

The Emergency Medical Services has established a hotline to deal with all enquiries. The 24-hour hotline number is 011 564 2083. Healthcare workers are being trained on how to deal with patients who present symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fevers. Port Health Services will be also be strengthened to deal with any situation. Members of the Border Control Operational Co-ordinating Committee (BCOCC) in provinces will also be trained.

Government's message to the public is 'do not panic; we are dealing with the situation'. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely and we are confident that the test results will shed more light on this virus so that appropriate measures could be put in place as soon as possible.

Cabinet decided that the South African government, working with civil society, should participate in the global humanitarian assistance effort to support the people of Cuba in their hour of need following the devastation caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The hurricanes left 7 people dead; 3.1 million people were evacuated, 444 000 houses were extensively damaged and agricultural fields were destroyed. The Cuban government and its people must be commended for the extensive evacuation effort which saved millions of lives. The South African government will work with civil society to ensure that a national humanitarian assistance programme is launched to assist the people of Cuba. The Department of Foreign Affairs, which has already pledged R3 million to this effort, will be the co-ordinating department.

The framework for the division of revenue for the 2009 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) was approved. This part of the meeting was attended by the Premiers together with their Members of Executive (MEC's) in charge of finance. The division of revenue will be tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Finance when he delivers the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement on 21 October 2008.

The meeting noted that the third India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) Summit of Heads of State is scheduled to take place in India on the 15 October 2008. The summit will be preceded by ministerial and business meetings. The summit is expected to look at ways in which the three countries could jointly meet the challenges of energy, food security, global economic governance, and development, and ways to promote tourism.

The 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was approved, and will be tabled in Parliament for approval.

Cabinet expresses its condolences to the families and friends of those who died in the tragic bus accident in Piet Retief which claimed 31 lives and left many others critically injured.

The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects was approved and will be submitted to Parliament for ratification.

The following appointments were approved:

  • Mr Baijoo, Prof MO Ndwandwe and Dr EM Zungu, were appointed to the Council of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum;
  • Prof DR Bagwandeen, Prof MS Bayat, Mr B Botma, Dr P Esterhuyse, Mrs J Lamprecht, Prof S Louw, Mrs KP Mokuena, Advocate MJ Ralefatane, Mr K Ranchod, Prof BS Rubidge and Mr MH Sabela, were appointed to the Council of the National Museum.

The draft Finance Bill was approved and will be tabled in Parliament for finalisation.

[End of statement].

- Questions and Answers -

Journalist: An unusually long Cabinet meeting but you said an unusually short statement. Was the Cabinet busy with them?

Themba Maseko: No, Cabinet was dealing with a lot of these issues that were in front of us and there was also a presentation which I didn’t include here because it will be covered by the Minister of Finance. He did a presentation on the global economic turmoil taking place all over the world and how it is likely to have some effect on the South African market, but also noted the extensive progress the country has made in terms of regulating our banking system to make sure that we don’t actually fall into the traps that many banks around the world are going through at the moment. But that economic analysis is the subject of the Reserve Bank Governor’s meeting taking place today and will also be part of the Minister of Finance’s presentation in parliament. But there was extensive discussion on the global economy but we have decided not to cover it here because the Minister of Finance will deal with that in his speech in Parliament.

Journalist: Do you know when that will be?

Themba Maseko: On the 21st of October.

Journalist: Thank you, Themba. I was going to ask a question about the absence of information on the currency global credit crunch but I see that you have answered that now. But I still want to ask: don’t you think that waiting until the 21st is too long? Is there not anything that the Cabinet wishes to convey to the South African public and to the South African markets in this time?

Themba Maseko: Well, Deon, the matter is a subject of discussion in the Reserve Bank meeting taking place today. There was a discussion in Cabinet meeting. The view is that we should leave these matters to the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank to comment. However, the Cabinet is of the view that our economy has shown signs if resilience in many respects - the banking sector, largely because of the efforts of government regulation that were put in place. In giving you an example-: the issue of the FICA which has made sure that in fact, our banks are properly regulated. There are obviously other exchange controls measures that are still in place which we think have also played a role in terms of shielding the South African economy.

But again, as the global economy is going through this turmoil and the GDP growth in many of the developed countries shrinks, chances are that the impact will be felt by many of the developing nations including South Africa. But we remain confident that we have in fact, some measures that can to some extend shield us from this global turmoil; but at the end of the day there is no way that we can [say] that our economy will not feel the impact of what is taking place globally. But a more definitive statement on these matters, as I am saying, will come from the Minister of Finance when he speaks to the nation on the 21st.

Journalist: I know it’s a party-political matter, but I have to ask if Cabinet has discussed this proposed split from the ANC and Mosioua Lekota’s role in that.

Themba Maseko: No, unfortunately these are party-political matters and the primary focus of Cabinet was how to implement the Programme of Action of government. So it is our view that the business of governing this country is the responsibility of government. And all the political issues and splits in political parties should not have any impact at all on the operations and functions of government. So the matter was not discussed.

Journalist: Thank you. Sorry for jumping the gun. It’s the first time now that Cabinet has met under its new management. How would you characterise the differences with the previous one?

Themba Maseko: Okay. Let's just correct you there Jan-Jan. This is the second meeting chaired by President Motlanthe.

The only difference with yesterday’s meeting was that part of the meeting was joined by Premiers and MECs for Finance, which is nothing unusual. It always happens prior to the delivery of the Medium Term Budget Policy statement by the Minister of Finance. The mood of the meeting was positive as usual. I would say that discussions were as robust and as extensive as they were in the previous Cabinet. So one cannot say there is a difference between the two Cabinet meetings. It was just a positive Cabinet meeting as was in the case in the past.

Journalist: Thanks for a second crack. The situation in Zimbabwe - the paralysis there is cause for concern internationally and obviously here as well. Was that discussed at all, and particularly the resumption of the mediation role by former President Thabo Mbeki?

Themba Maseko: The Zimbabwean situation was not discussed specifically at the meeting, except I can say that President Motlanthe has already approved and supported the role of the former President as a mediator and he has communicated to the SADC leaders that President Mbeki is available and will be ready to participate in the mediation efforts. And as far as we are concerned, we will continue to offer whatever support is required and is necessary to the mediation team to make sure that the mediation process is again back on track. But the matter was not discussed specifically at the meeting.

Journalist: Themba, my question relates to this outbreak of this virus and what I want to know is with gaps in my knowledge on this issue. What is the role of the public health system in containing or dealing with this very emergency? My understanding is this person was flown from Zambia to Sunninghill private facility in Medi-clinic in Sunninghill. If this virus was airborne and this virus had been wider - in other words with more people infected - would we have any situation where people would be taken into Joburg General or Baragwanath to be quarantined or be treated for this, or would it be left to the private health system? What is the role of the public health system in containing this outbreak? [Having] teams on standby, I mean it's one thing, but if things were to happen, what’s the role of the public health system?

Themba Maseko: Thebe, let’s just look at it this way. Government position is that if you have a possible outbreak of a virus, it becomes a matter of national priority. The distinction between public and private health institutions becomes irrelevant. We then have to make sure that we put all the resources together to make sure that we address this challenge. The difficulty was that this situation is also exposing some of the weaknesses that exist in this country. For instance, we are now finding out that a lot of the private health facilities have actually been promoting their facilities to many countries around the continent and around the world, and patients are being flown directly into these facilities without necessarily the knowledge of the public health system. So it’s actually very clear that there is some kind of regulation - some kind of monitoring system that might need to be put in place. There has to be, I think, greater synergy between public and private health to make sure that, you know, we can begin to talk about a health system that has both public and private health components to them. But what became very clear was that the incidents were reported into private hospitals - but it becomes as I say, irrelevant whether hospitals are public or private. The responsibility of the government, that is the public healthcare system, is to just make sure that outbreaks of this nature are picked up as quickly as possible and that a national response is developed in partnership - that is partnership between public and private health, because if we were to have a situation where we say a virus outbreak happened in a private facility and that therefore the public system should not participate - that will be, in my view, totally incorrect. So we just need to make sure that it is a national response and this is what this report indicated to Cabinet: that a strong partnership between public and private professionals places us in a very [much] better position to deal with the possible outbreak of this virus. So, what I am advocating here; what we are advocating here, is a much more stronger partnership between public and private health but at the same time finding a way of regulating and monitoring what’s happening. People’s patients have been brought in from other countries coming into our health hospitals - what sort of checks and balances need to be put in place to make sure that in fact we don’t find ourselves in this situation in the future.

Journalist: Isn’t it also true that these cases are being referred to or reported to private healthcare institutions because public health care institutions simply don’t have the capacity anymore? In the past, every major public hospital always had a specialised facility to deal with cases like this - excuse me, I don’t know all the technical terms - but under the Health Minister these former specialised units were closed down. Do you think this policy was a mistake?

Themba Maseko: I don’t know if there is a policy error that we are dealing with here. The fact of the matter is that the virus was picked up in private hospitals and what I am saying here is that it becomes important for us to find a way of encouraging a partnership between private and public health because when there is a threat to the lives of our citizens, it becomes less important whether this happens in a public or private hospital. Now, I am not a health expert. I cannot tell you what policies are in place; what units have been closed. So, unfortunately I cannot answer that question at this stage. You will have an opportunity to meet with the Minister of Health and you can pose that question when we arrange media briefings for her.

Journalist: We have had a change of Deputy President since our last meeting. Is Baleka Mbete head of Government Business and if so, is she going to be the driving force behind the AsgiSA programme? And the programme itself (AsgiSA), was it discussed at Cabinet and is it under review?

Themba Maseko: Yes, Deputy President Baleka Mbete is the new leader of Government Business and the functions that fell under her - under the previous Deputy President - have been transferred over to the new Deputy President. So, she will continue programmes such as AsgiSA, JIPSA and all those activities that the former Deputy President was managing, and [these] will fall under the current Deputy President, including AsgiSA. So your question was: Did Cabinet discuss AsgiSA specifically? [My response is:] No, unfortunately not at this specific meeting.

Journalist: Themba, I want to go back to the global economic meltdown. You said that the Finance Minister said there was some effect or there would be some effect to the South African economy. I wonder if you could elaborate on that for me. And secondly, you say that the IBSA Summit will look at ways in which [the] three countries could join to meet the challenges of energy, food security and global economic governance. Would you like to outline for us some of the ways in which that could happen? How would three countries jointly tackle challenges of energy, food security and global economic governance?

Themba Maseko: Okay, so Michael, as you could tell from the beginning of the briefing I am trying to steer away from making too many statements on the state of the economy because I think we have the Minister of Finance who is more than capable of dealing with that. But some of the examples that were discussed in yesterday’s meeting is for instance the fact that if there is a shrinking of developed economies, as an example, it means that all the materials that are exported by all the developing countries to developed nations are likely to take a major decline. We exported, you know, a lot of minerals to developed nations, and if the economies of this countries shrink to a very large extend you will see that is going to have an impact on our mining industry. You would know for instance that platinum is one of the most important materials that we are exporting to the world and when the economies shrink, we think that in fact, it is likely to affect the price of this precious metal and if that happens, that is going to have an impact on the amount of foreign cash that we are able to bring into our economy. And all those kinds of issues - but as I said, the Minister of Finance will give you much more intelligent responses to that particular issue.

On the IBSA there will be, as normally is the case, a briefing by Foreign Affairs to just give you an idea about what is going to be on the agenda of IPSA. So, can I ask you just to hold on to that question; we will make sure that more details are given to you by Foreign Affairs.

Journalist: When will that be?

Themba Maseko: Normally these briefings are meant to take place around midday on a Thursday but we will see what plan we can put in place. But it will be before the Summit begins. Okay, next question. Cape Town?

Journalist: Just two things. Has there been any indication as to when the new Deputy Finance Minister is going to be appointed? Can you give us any clarity on what the Finance Bill is about? Thanks.

Themba Maseko: There is no indication at this stage at all. I don’t think the President has made any decision on whether there should be a Deputy Finance Minister and if so, when that appointment will be made. An announcement will be made if and when the President has made a decision. The Finance Bill is basically the bill that goes to Parliament that basically regularises resolutions that were taken by the house - the SCOPA decisions and many other issues; but Linda, we can talk offline. I can give you more details on the Bill. I will read it and give it to you. More questions?

Journalist: Just a follow up to Linda. The former Deputy Finance Minister had played a pivotal role with the 2010 Soccer World Cup. I mean if a decision is made not to appoint a Deputy Finance Minister, can you give us some indication how the vacancy to [discharge duties of government for 2010 - sic] ... from Ministers Pahad to Mufamadi were also fairly important in the government’s organising of the 2010? What about filling their vacancies? And just a separate question, is the Deputy President also going to carry on as the Head of SANAC (South African National AIDS Council)?

Themba Maseko: We should have concluded the briefing then. The Deputy President as far as I am aware - she will continue to be the head of SANAC. It was a decision that was taken by the previous Cabinet that the function is important enough for it to be managed at the level of Deputy President of the country. So that should still continue. However, if a different decision is taken, we will communicate that to you.

Your first question about Ministers and 2010 is equally an important issue. It is on the table of the President. The principled decision that needs to be taken is firstly whether those former Ministers who were serving on the board of the LOC will continue or whether they should be replaced by other Ministers who are in Cabinet. That decision, as far as I am aware, has not been made. So as soon as that decision is made, it will be communicated. The second part of your question is with regard to the Deputy Minister of Finance and his role in terms of co-ordinating government work around the financing of 2010 projects. That function, because there is no Deputy Minister as we speak, is being co-ordinated by the Minister of Finance and until /when a decision is taken about whether and when a Deputy Minister of Finance is appointed. The Minister of Finance is going to have to have oversight of that specific function, but the Deputy Minister of Finance also falls under this category of former Cabinet members whose positions also need to be reviewed by the President - as far as the participation in the LOC Board is concerned. You are aware that the LOC Board met last week and they decided that, in fact, they will leave that decision to government. So the President is going to take a decision on this matter as soon as possible - an announcement will be made.

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss anything about the appointment of the new State Information Technology Agency (Sita) board - in particular, the appointment of the new CEO there?

Themba Maseko: Paul, not at this meeting, but if my memory serves me well, the new SITA board was appointed a couple of Cabinet meetings ago and a statement was made in that regard. I don’t recall if that announcement included the appointment of a full-time, permanent or an acting CEO, but we can we check the statement on that; but as far as the body is concerned, an announcement was made. I think it was about two or three Cabinet meetings ago.

Journalist: Just one thing here Themba. Who is the new Presidential spokesperson? Thank you.

Themba Maseko: We are working on that one. No person has been appointed as yet. So it’s GCIS and the people working in The Presidency assisting with that function. From time to time, I am also roped in to assist but we are pushing to get a person appointed as soon as possible. So as we speak, no specific person has been dedicated as the present spokesperson.

Journalist: I’d just like to know if the effect of the current financial crisis on Eskom’s programme was discussed at all.

Themba Maseko: As part of discussing the statement that the Minister will make in Parliament, Government’s commitment to fund Eskom is firmly in place. So, Government will continue funding and the commitment at this stage is around 60 billion rands - so that will be in the books. However, Cabinet has noted that the global economic turmoil is also making it very difficult for anybody, including Eskom and private sector banks, to raise funds in the capital markets globally. So, that may actually affect Eskom’s ability to raise funding internationally. As we know, most of the international banks are broke as we speak. So it’s going to be difficult for Eskom to raise the funding. But we believe that in fact a plan will be put in place. Government is remaining firm on its commitments to fund Eskom but Eskom is going to have to see how the global turmoil is affecting the ability to raise capital internationally, and they may have to come locally to source funding in the local market, but that will be up to Eskom to see what plan they need to put in place.

Journalist: So there is no suggestion at this stage that the whole programme will be delayed in anyway?

Themba Maseko: Well, if there is any need for a delay, it will be up to Eskom to make that decision but we believe that the need for the programme is still there. The call for independent power-producers is still there, inviting private players to come in and assist in the generation of electricity. The commitment is still there, but it will be up to Eskom to manage the change in environment as far as the markets are concerned.


Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)