Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing

6 November 2008

Date: Thursday, 6 November 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, 05 November 2008.

Cabinet congratulates Mr Barack Obama on his election as the first black president of the United States of America. Mr Obama’s election is an indication that the American society is undergoing transformation. The South African government believes that Mr Obama’s election will lay a solid foundation for the redefinition of America’s relations with the rest of the world. South Africa is looking forward to a fruitful working relationship with the US, at bilateral and multilateral level under his leadership.

The meeting noted that President Kgalema Motlanthe had received the Commission Report from Dr Frene Ginwala which looked into Advocate Vusi Pikoli’s fitness to hold office as the National Director of Public Prosecutions. The President is studying the report and he will release its contents as soon as all the due processes have been concluded. The President will also announce his decision on the future of Advocate Pikoli in due course.

Cabinet is extremely concerned about the recent outbreak of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the lack of progress in the power-sharing talks in Zimbabwe. The meeting noted that SADC will be convening an extra-ordinary summit of heads of state and government at the Sandton Convention Centre, on 9 November 2008, to discuss the political situation in the DRC and in Zimbabwe.

The meeting expressed grave concern about the recent spate of light aircraft accidents over the past few months, which have claimed up to 34 lives. Whilst we regret the loss of lives, government is satisfied that our aviation industry, especially the commercial airlines, has one of the best safety records in the world. Government calls on the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) to urgently implement stricter control measures to ensure that accidents are prevented. The Department of Transport is already interacting with the aviation authorities to address the causes of these accidents.

Cabinet approved the proposal on alternative approaches to the funding of concurrent functions (education, housing, social development and health), in South Africa’s intergovernmental system. In summary, the proposed approach seeks to:

  • achieve greater alignment between policy making, priority setting, and the vertical division of revenue between the different spheres; and
  • address challenges such as non-implementation of national priorities by the different spheres, as funds are sometimes diverted to other priorities.

In terms of this new approach, policy and budget priorities in concurrent functions will be determined by national government in consultation with the different spheres.
In allocating budgets, National Treasury will ensure that national priorities are included in provincial plans.
It is further proposed that housing be assigned to municipalities.
The proposed approach will be discussed with the provinces and SALGA at the Presidential Co-ordinating Council in December.

The meeting noted that President Kgalema Motlanthe held a successful meeting with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) on 1 November 2008. This meeting provided an opportunity for the President and members of SANEF to discuss a number of issues that have an impact on the relationship between government and the media. The outcome of the meeting included the following:

  • The President made a commitment to consider all the concerns raised by SANEF regarding the Films and Publication Bill.
  • A colloquium will be convened by GCIS, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and SANEF, to address the concerns raised by SANEF regarding legislation that has the potential to impact negatively on media freedom.
  • The parties agreed to move with speed to establish the Presidential Press Corps. The Chairperson of SANEF and the CEO of GCIS were specifically mandated to expedite the establishment of the press corps.

Three new vaccines - Pnuemococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), rotavirus [vaccine] and a pentavalant [vaccine] - will be introduced into the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), at a cost of R1.1 billion. These vaccines are expected to significantly reduce childhood mortality, morbidity and human suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases. These vaccines will form part of Government efforts to improve the health and life expectancy of South Africans by improving access to life-saving vaccines, and will bring us closer to the realisation of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality by two thirds by 2015. The new vaccines will be introduced nationally in January 2009.

A progress report on the implementation of the Airlift Strategy (2006), was noted. The report highlighted the following successes:

  • 34% capacity increase on bilateral air services;
  • implementation of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision on the liberalisation of intra-Africa Air Transport services; and
  • the conclusion of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between South Africa Airways and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Airlines, FIFA’s official carrier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The MOU entitles UAE Airlines to operate up to twenty-eight passenger flights into Johannesburg and fourteen flights to Cape Town, by 2010.

The strategy is making real progress in opening our skies to facilitate trade and tourism between South Africa, the continent and the world.

Cabinet congratulates Ms Monhla Hlahla, Chief Executive Officer of the Airports Company (ACSA), and her team, for the professional manner in which the construction and development of the various airports is being implemented. Government is pleased that ACSA is succeeding in implementing the mandate to ensure that we have world-class airport infrastructure in preparation to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup and beyond. South Africans should be proud of the fact that South African airports have been transformed into world-class airports.

Cabinet is pleased to announce that Reverend Frank Chikane, Director-General in The Presidency, has agreed to continue serving government until the general elections in 2009. In performing his duties, the Reverend will work closely with Mr Trevor Fowler, the Chief Operations Officer in the Presidency. Cabinet thanked Reverend Chikane for agreeing to stay on, and expressed appreciation to him for his excellent service to the government and the people of South Africa over the past 13 years.

The progress report on the development of a new high-security passport was noted. The meeting welcomed and supported the initiative, which is aimed at ensuring that the South African passport meets and exceeds global security requirements. The progress on the implementation of the Neighbourhood Development Partnership Grant (NDPG), was noted. This grant is meant to support projects that provide community infrastructure, to attract private sector development and to improve the quality of life of residents in targeted disadvantaged areas. The NDPG has a portfolio of 86 awards in 135 townships, in 51 municipalities, at a cost of R 8.7 billion over 10 years.

The 7.5% cost-of-living salary adjustment for office bearers of the South African Human Rights Commission and other state institutions was approved. This adjustment will be equal to the adjustment offered in the Public Service. These adjustments will take effect on 01 April 2008.

The alienation of the infrastructure of the Vaal-gamagara Government Water Scheme to the Sedibeng Water Board, was approved. The infrastructure to be transferred encompasses the bulk services supplying water to the mines, which are the economic development engines to the affected areas. Parliament will be approached to approve the transaction, as the value of the scheme exceeds the prescribed R100 million mark. A framework agreement was reached with the unions to ensure the smooth transfer of staff to the new authority.

Cabinet noted that South Africa won the bid to host the prestigious 35th International Geological Congress in 2016.

The meeting noted and supported South Africa’s bid to host the 6th World Water Forum in March 2012, in Durban.

The Interactive Gambling Tax Bill was approved for submission to Parliament.

The following appointments were approved:

  • Concurred with the appointment of Mr PK Dlamini as the Chief Executive Officer of the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS), for a five-year period;
  • The contract renewal of Mr G Davel as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Credit Regulator (NCR), for a two-year period;
  • The term of office for the current members of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), was extended for six months.

[End of statement].

- Questions and Answers -

Journalist: Themba, thank you. Just on the Ginwala Commission report, you note here in the press release that the contents will be released as soon as all due processes have been concluded. Can you tell us what those due processes are, and then you say the President will announce his decision on the future of Advocate Pikoli in due course, can you give us some time-scales there, please?

Themba Maseko: The most important step with regard to the report is to ensure that all the relevant people who are entitled to receive the report receive it. In this regard importantly copies should be given to the attorneys representing Advocate Pikoli and making sure that the President also receives legal advice on the report from The Presidency legal advisors. So those are the due processes that need to take place, and the view was that we could not publish the report before Advocate Pikoli receives the copy. The President, in my discussion with him yesterday, said he will try and study the report and receive advice as quickly as possible. So within a matter of days we should expect to hear what the President has decided. And unfortunately at this stage I'm not in a position to tell you what the findings were and what the recommendations of the commission are, but that will be done when we publish the report, hopefully within a matter of days.

Journalist: Just referring to this budgeting process changing regarding housing in particular, can you give us background on as to why this recommendation has been made, what were the shortfalls in particular that were worrying Cabinet? And how will the new system work?

Themba Maseko: Basically what that report as you see in the statement is basically trying to address is the fact that national government identifies and sets priorities at national level, budgets are then allocated to provinces and municipalities. But from time to time you find that the priorities as set by government are not being implemented at provincial and local level, because provinces have their own Makgotla and they determine their own priorities and decide to allocate money to the provincial priorities which are not always inline with what the national government seeks to achieve. So you could take for instance housing and education, national government will say priorities for instance will be on early childhood development or adult basic education, but when it comes to allocation of resources you find that provinces would actually identify something else other than those national priorities. So the view is that we need to begin to bring a greater level of alignment between what national government identifies as priorities and what ultimately gets implemented at provincial and local government. So housing is being identified as one possible area where we could actually say these are the national priorities and which of the spheres in government is best placed to implement that national priority or implement that policy. And the view of the team working on this proposal was basically that the delivery of housing is a function that can be best delivered if it's assigned to the municipalities that control land, that know what the housing needs are at a local level. So that's the kind of discussion that is being considered by Cabinet, and that's why the proposal to review the way in which priorities are set, budgets are allocated, is being put on the table. But the matter will be discussed further with the provinces as we state in the statement.

Journalist: If you don't mind, Themba, I just wanted to find out. I understand there is a review going on, on the whole concurrent functions and the distribution of powers between national and provincial and local. How does this fit into that whole review and does any of these realignments require an amendment to the Constitution, and when and how will that happen?

Themba Maseko: The review of the functions and responsibilities of the different spheres of government is something that is likely to take much longer, and it may actually be one of those policy issues that are left for the new government to implement after elections. So that's likely to take a slightly longer time. What this proposal basically does is that as we get closer to the allocation of budgets for the next financial year it was important to actually identify some measures that could be implemented before we even implement any changes to the powers and functions of the different spheres. So ultimately when a decision is taken on the allocation of responsibility, there might have to be adjustments to make sure that this new proposal of funding is actually incorporated. At this stage these proposals are simply looking at the funding question, without necessarily looking at amendment to the Constitution. For instance, if you take the assignment of the housing function to local government, that function is already accommodated in the Constitution. So the Constitution does say that government can reassign functions to a different sphere of government. So at this stage these funding proposals in our view do not necessarily warrant any constitutional amendments.

Journalist: One quick further follow-up, I mean to dictate to provinces how they should spend their money whether wisely or not, isn't that an abrogation of their provincial competence?

Themba Maseko: Not necessarily. The current legal framework is that national government sets priorities and allocates budgets to all spheres of government. So in that allocation of budgets then national government is able to put what is called the division of revenue act which is tabled in Parliament, which says these are the moneys we are allocating to the different spheres and these are the policy objectives that we are seeking to achieve. And what we have found is that in this current framework it does happen from time to time that priorities are set but when resources are allocated we find that those priorities are not carried forward by the different spheres. So you'd find that national government will allocate money, say, for primary school education, a province then sets its own priorities and says for instance as an example that rural road construction is a priority for that particular province, so moneys get diverted from the national fiscus to rural road construction and the policy requirement about primary education actually ends up being relegated to a non-important function at a provincial level. So this is basically to clean up the way the system is working, to make sure that there is proper alignment between policy setting or policy determination, priority setting and budget allocation. So it's an attempt to make sure that we can work much more effectively as government.

Journalist: Can I continue with a follow-up? The decision about housing seems to be... or the proposal about housing seems to be taking housing away from the provinces. Am I correct in assuming that? And where does that leave projects such as the Gateway project in Cape Town which is not a municipal project anymore, it is a provincial project, and national.

Themba Maseko: Well, as I was saying, the view of the team that was working on this proposal was that providing housing to communities is one of those functions in our view that can be best performed if it's assigned to the local government sphere, because it's closer to communities. Most of the land in these provinces is actually controlled by local government, so it makes sense that the housing projects be implemented at the provincial sphere. So what that means is basically that when funding is allocated for housing, that funding will actually be channelled via provinces to local government. Now what that means, if you look at the project such as the one you're mentioning in Cape Town, it was meant to pilot a new initiative where you could have a project of delivering housing using or in partnership between national government, provincial government and the local sphere. And what was discovered was that in the implementation of the project there were lots of tensions and conflicts because national government would say these are the priorities, this is what we think you should be doing, a province will say but that's not inline with what we're trying to do. Local government will say but housing provision should actually be our responsibility. So there's a lot of tension and conflict that arose as a result of this partnership that did not work as well as it should have. So what this proposal is suggesting is that maybe in future if we want to deliver housing to our communities the best sphere to deliver this function is actually the local government sphere, and that is the proposal that's being put on the table. But as I said it will be discussed with the provinces and SALGA in December to see how it could be implemented and what could be the shortcomings when this proposal is implemented.

Journalist: Sorry, I mean if you know national government, right, is going to determine in terms of education and housing and social development, that money be spent in this way and that way, what is the need of having provincial departments of housing, education and social development?

Themba Maseko: Well, that's the medium term review of the powers and functions. As I was saying earlier on, powers and functions, that's a study that's taking place in the Department of Provincial and Local Government. But what this proposal is simply focusing on is a different way of funding and making sure that policy priorities set at national level are implemented inline with the policies as approved by Cabinet. So what that would mean is that in fact the functions of delivering houses that were located in the provincial government for instance, provincial housing department, the actual delivery of housing will be assigned to local government and what that would mean is that the role of provincial government may have to change. It may have to be to monitor implementation, co-ordinate the work of the different municipalities as far as housing delivery is concerned, etcetera, etcetera. But this model is saying basically at this stage this is how we think some of these functions should be funded to make sure that we achieve a greater level of alignment.

Journalist: How would you respond to suggestions that this move, and it may be seen this way in some quarters, is aimed at taking away control of budgets from provinces in anticipation of the possibility that the governing party may lose control of some provinces in the next election?

Themba Maseko: Well, I'm sure a lot of analysts may make come to that conclusion, but that's not necessarily the case. Our role as government is to continue to seek new ways of improving the way in which we deliver services to our communities. Now at this particular point in time government is of the view that the work of governing this country has to continue irrespective of which party or which parties will be winning which province. Irrespective of that, we have to continue to find better ways of delivering services to our communities, and that's what this model is basically looking at. To say we think that as national government to achieve a greater level of alignment and co-ordination between policies, priorities and budget allocation the best way to do it is to actually look at a new model of funding some of these concurrent functions. And we can ensure that we set up a briefing when the G&A cluster does a briefing, hopefully in the next few weeks, we'll be able to just give you some of the details of what are the shortcomings in the existing system. When we are saying that priorities are set nationally but not being implemented at provincial level, (we should ask) what does it really mean in actual terms? So we can give you details at a later stage. But at this stage I want to assure you that in fact this policy proposal has nothing to do with trying to pre-empt the outcome of the elections, I can assure, yes. As far as that is concerned.

Journalist: Just a follow-up on the housing. Did you go into details about how, you know, municipalities will deliver housing? Are you still looking at using kind of state owned housing companies like Thubelisha, which is now bankrupt? I mean, I know it's supposed to be transformed into a housing development agency, but you know how will that work if municipalities are in charge of housing?

Themba Maseko: Well, let me put it this way. The function of delivering housing to communities, it is proposed in this new approach. That it should be a function that is assigned to the local government sphere. Now in implementing that decision, funding is then allocated to local government, but then local government will use different agencies for the actual delivery and construction of houses to communities. So for instance money will be allocated to Cape Town. If that function is assigned to Cape Town, Cape Town will then use different agencies, whether it's the proposed housing agency or go to the private sector for the actual construction of housing. So that's how the proposed system will work.

Journalist: My question is about the SADC meeting this weekend. You say Cabinet is extremely concerned about the lack of progress in the talks in Zimbabwe and we've seen that from the first meeting in Zambia months ago, these numerous SADC meetings seem to elicit little more than hot air. Will South Africa as a chairperson be urging the Heads of State and Government to take up a bit of a harder line against Zimbabwe this time around?

Themba Maseko: As we state in the statement government is extremely concerned about, especially the eruption of violence in the eastern part of the DRC, secondly about the slow pace in the power-sharing talks between the various parties in Zimbabwe, and it is government's view that, in fact the Heads of State and Government must now take urgent steps to make sure that solutions are found, political solutions are found to these two situations that we've just described. As far as Zimbabwe's concerned we believe that if fact, the failure of the parties to agree on the new Cabinet is something that is becoming a major hindrance to the political stability that we so desire in the SADC region, so we will be indeed taking a very firm position as government, to make sure that the parties in Zimbabwe understand the urgency of finding a settlement because we believe that South Africa in the region cannot be held to ransom by two parties that are failing, or three parties, that are failing to reach agreement on the allocation of Cabinet posts, so this is becoming a matter of extreme concern to us and we will be taking quite a hard stance to make sure that agreement is reached.

Journalist: You say they must take urgent steps. Was it discussed what sort of steps these should be?

Themba Maseko: Well unfortunately it would be inappropriate for us to speak before the Heads of State and Government meeting takes place on Sunday but we believe that in fact, the Heads of State and Government have played a key role in making sure that the Zimbabwean problem is seen as an African problem with African solutions being required. Now the Heads of State and Government are being tested to see if they can actually deliver a political solution to the Zimbabwean problem, so we will indeed be making proposals about how we think the situation could be expedited but it's something that we will be sharing with the Heads of State and Government at the meeting.

Journalist: There's R100 million lying around somewhere for an agricultural rescue plan but it can only be implemented once the parties have agreed. Have we missed the planting season in Zimbabwe?

Themba Maseko: Is actually not R100 million. I think it's R300 million. We are obviously worried about that. A task team has been put in place by government that has put together a proposal about how the money could be distributed or allocated. However, one of the major stumbling blocks is the fact that we are battling to sit at a ministerial level with the relevant ministers from Zimbabwe to make sure that this money can be distributed. I can't tell you with certainty whether we've missed the rainy season as yet, but our offer to help still remains and we are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that, that money is put to good use as soon as possible.

Journalist: Just two questions on Zimbabwe. You are saying that South Africa will be taking a hard stance to ensure that these guys end up agreeing on the allocation of Cabinet. What stance? How would you execute the hard line stance? And secondly, why is Cabinet not discussing the exchange of Directors-General (DGs) of Sports and Correctional Services? I mean, you would normally brief us about comments that were made like you did now with (Reverend Frank) Chikane, but last week you didn't and even now it's not in your statement. What's the feeling? Why is this matter not being discussed in Cabinet?

Themba Maseko: Hard stances are saying we are getting a bit anxious about the failure of the parties to reach a political settlement and we believe that in fact, the parties have agreed on the major issues. It is actually quite a problem that the only outstanding issues, the allocation of Cabinet positions and therefore our position is that the parties need to see the urgency with which this matter needs to be attended. So we will be expressing our views as the South African government that the matter needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. We remain optimistic and hopeful that the SADC Summit this weekend may just help us reach a final solution on this matter. All the parties in Zimbabwe will be at the talks and we believe that they will be able to listen and take advice that will be coming from the various Heads of state. Unfortunately at this stage, I can't give you more details about what exactly we will be putting at the meeting. On the issue of DGs the matter was not covered in the previous Cabinet statement because the issue had not been discussed at the Cabinet meeting. However it's a matter that was discussed and dealt with by ministers in consultation with The Presidency and it was approved outside of the Cabinet meeting, so on those kinds of issues it would not be for Cabinet to actually discuss an agreement that is reached by two ministers, especially because these were not necessarily new appointments. It was a question of transferring two senior civil servants from one department to the other and it was found at the time that it was not necessary to bring that issue for discussion to Cabinet. So that's why the matter is not in the statement and was not in the last statement.

Journalist: The Film and Publications Bill... this colloquium, shouldn't it be something that happened before the Bill was dealt with in Parliament?

Themba Maseko: The Film and Publication Bill is something that was discussed in several meetings between government and SANEF and other stakeholders and in those discussions there were some agreements which did lead to some amendments which were implemented by parliament in the House. In those meetings SANEF was also requested to make submissions directly to Parliament and that did take place. We had also agreed that legal advisors from the Department of Home Affairs and representatives from SANEF should sit and discuss the Bill and that did actually take place, so we believe that extensive discussions did take place between government and SANEF. However at this stage, what is remaining is for the President to simply sign the Bill into legislation. And the President has said he wants to seek legal advice before he actually signs this Bill. So the matter is now left with the President to discuss. The colloquium that we're mentioning here is basically a seminar where government will sit around with representatives of media organisations to discuss other legislation that is still in our statute book that could be seen to be muzzling media freedom in the country, so those are two separate things. But a short answer to your question - yes, there were extensive discussions between government and SANEF and the Bill was tabled in Parliament after those discussions had taken place. So it's clear that in fact there are areas where there was no agreement between SANEF and government but it was agreed that the matter must be left to Parliament to resolve.

Journalist: Two questions from me. Firstly on the issue of the elections, did Cabinet discuss a possible date for elections and if not, we just want to find out has any deadline been set by government for an announcement to be made on when the elections will be held and secondly, on the Ginwala Commission, you say that the President will announce his decision in due course. Now, has the President given any indication what this due course could mean, when this possibly could be and if so, has he set a deadline on when he would like to finish applying his mind to the particular matter?

Themba Maseko: Okay. Elections, no, Cabinet did not discuss the forthcoming elections and no date was discussed, but a date for elections is something that is discussed between the President and the head of the IEC, so as soon as that discussion takes place an announcement will be made about the date of elections. So at this stage, no-one can tell you when these elections are going to take place and Cabinet did not discuss that matter. The Ginwala Commission as I was saying earlier on, the President has received the report, he is studying it. Part of what he's doing now is to also make sure that due process is followed, which means making sure that all the people who need to receive a copy of the report do receive it, with particular reference here would be Advocate Pikoli himself, he needs to get a copy, so a copy will be given to him. His legal advisors etcetera, etcetera. But in my discussion with the President he did indicate that he expects to make a decision within a matter of days, on the future of Advocate Pikoli, and that the report will also be revealed or published within a matter of days. But he just needs to make sure that due process is followed and that he can apply his mind to the report before those things happen.

Journalist: If you can let us know, when exactly did the President receive the report, which day?

Themba Maseko: The President received the report on Tuesday afternoon. Okay, if there are no further questions we can conclude the briefing. Thank you very much.


Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)