Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing Q&A

13 August 2009

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Panellist: Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education
Date: 13 August 2009
Venue: Union Buildings (with video-link to Cape Town)

Statement read by Themba Maseko

Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Pretoria yesterday, 12 August 2009.

Cabinet approved the moratorium on the disposal of mining assets currently held by the state entities. This moratorium is intended to provide the Minister of Mineral Resources with adequate time to conduct and finalise an audit of mining interests held directly or indirectly by the state. This audit will enable the state to decide whether to consolidate, retain or dispose of such interests. Any exceptions to this moratorium will require discussions with the Minister of Mineral Resources and final approval from Cabinet before finalisation.

The Minister of Finance tabled the first draft report of the Ministerial Task Team on reprioritising spending to increase the impact of the budget. The Task Team’s work is based on the key principle that Government is not attempting to cut public spending, but rather, to reduce wastage and to divert spending to new areas. The objectives of the proposals include: addressing public concerns that Government is ‘living large’ while citizens are feeling the pain caused by the economic downturn; changing the culture towards greater prudence and less extravagance; achieving greater value for money and delivering more and better services with less resources.

The Task Team, which consists of the Ministers of Finance, Monitoring and Evaluation in The Presidency and Public Service and Administration, was given the mandate to develop concrete proposals and guidelines to ensure that all spheres of Government could adopt austerity measures to achieve these objectives. The Task Team is expected to table its recommendations as soon as possible.

The recent spate of violent robberies in parts of the Gauteng province was noted with concern. Cabinet is satisfied that the law enforcement agencies are doing all that is necessary to apprehend the perpetrators. Government will not rest until these bloodthirsty criminals are brought to book sooner rather than later. We call on all communities to be vigilant and to work with the authorities by providing information that will lead to the arrest of these criminals.

The Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) was approved. The programme will seek to achieve social cohesion and development in rural communities and is based on three key pillars namely: coordinated and integrated broad-based agrarian transformation; an improved land reform programme and through strategic investments in economic and social infrastructure in rural areas.  The CRDP will be launched by President Jacob Zuma in Giyani, Limpopo on the 17 August 2009.

The meeting noted the spread of the H1N1 flu pandemic in parts of the country. The Minister of Health will make a statement in this regard during the course of this briefing.

Progress reports on the draft green papers on the on the Government-wide Monitoring and Evaluation System and on National Strategic Planning/National Planning Commission were discussed and noted. The two green papers are expected to be finalised and published by the end of August.

The Auditor General’s Report on the conflict of interest in public entities and the Public Service Commission’s State of the Public Service Report were noted.  The meeting decided that the Conflict of Interest Framework for the Public Service must be finalised and tabled before Cabinet. The Minister for the Public Service and Administration was mandated to work with the Public Service Commission to strengthen anti-corruption measures in the public service.

The revised Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) between the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group and its member states, and the European Community member states was approved. This agreement provides, inter alia, for non-reciprocal trade preferences among signatories and contributes to dialogue on political and sustainable development. The CPA will be submitted to Parliament for ratification.

Cabinet congratulated the Springbok Rugby Team “die Bokke” for their convincing victory against the Australians over the weekend. This victory has consolidated our position at the top of the Tri-Nations log and places the “die Bokke” in a better position to win the Tri-Nations Cup. The meeting took the opportunity to the wish “die Bokke” well in the away leg of the tournament.

Cabinet approved South Africa’s participation in the facilitation of the peace process in Madagascar. South Africa will be represented by Mr Charles Nqakula in the facilitation process.  

The progress report on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations was approved and will be tabled in Parliament at its next session.

The Protection of Personal Information Bill was approved and will be tabled in Parliament. The Bill was drafted by the South African Law Commission and seeks to protect the constitutional right to  privacy as far as processing of personal information is concerned. The right to privacy should be balanced against other rights such as the right of access to information.

The meeting conveyed condolences to the families and friends of Professor Kambule, MEC Pandelani Ramagoma and Victor Moche. Professor Kambule (88) was a well-known and respected mathematician and educationist who taught and simplified mathematics to thousands of South Africans around the country. He was awarded the National Order of the Baobab for his contribution to mathematics, human development and community service.

MEC Ramagoma was a respected community leader who served the people of this country selflessly for many years. The MEC contributed to and provided leadership in the Limpopo Provincial Government’s contribution of no less than 29 000 jobs of the 500 000 national target said by President Jacob Zuma.

Victor Moche, who passed away, last Friday, was also a dedicated citizen who served this country in different capacities. He served as a Chief Representative in Algeria and Canada during his years in exile and on his return; he became a senior executive of at Telkom, CEO of Denel and Chairperson of The Gauteng Economic Development Agency (GEDA).

Their contributions will be missed by many South Africans.

Ms Mary Ellen Metcalfe was appointed to the post of Director General in the Department of Higher Education and Training. Ms Metcalfe brings a wealth of experience into the job and her career highlights include her role as Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Education in Gauteng, a renowned lecturer and most recently, she was the Head of the Wits School of Education.

Mr Francois Beukman was appointed to the post of Executive Director (Deputy Director General) to head the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD). Mr Beukman is a qualified attorney who worked in a number of law firms. He has been a Member of Parliament since 2005 where he held several positions including the Chairpersonship of SCOPA.

Mr SV Mkhize was appointed to the post of Deputy Director General (Civic Services) in the Department of Home Affairs. Mr Mkhize is being promoted from within the department after years of loyal service where he served as a Chief Director.

Questions and answers

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss the Bus Rapid Transport system (BRT) at all and taxi drivers’ concerns about the implementation?

Themba Maseko: BRT was not discussed at this particular meeting and it was not on the agenda, but obviously we are watching the developments as far as the BRT is concerned very closely. We are extremely concerned that a number of statements are being made by various taxi associations regarding the BRT, but Government is still firmly committed to making sure that the BRT is implemented.

Journalist: I have a couple of questions. The first is, I wondered if you could tell me for how long the moratorium is likely to last. How did the State come to own these mining assets and how long has it had them? Secondly, the Deputy President (Kgalema Motlanthe) said this morning in Cape Town that there are a large number of items of legislation were approved by the Cabinet this morning, you’ve mentioned I think two or maybe three. I just wondered if you could give us a list of the others.

Themba Maseko: Okay it looks like the Deputy President put me on the spot there. Bills were approved and Cabinet was given a list of all Bills that will be tabled in Parliament. So it’s quite a number of Bills, but a lot of those Bills had been approved at previous Cabinet meetings. So yesterday’s Cabinet meeting did not need to specifically approve a lot of those Bills because they had been approved previously. But the Protection of Information Bill was a specific Bill that had to be approved by the Cabinet meeting. But if you want a list we can make the programme of Bills to Parliament available to you, because it is going to be a public document anyway, so we can make that available.

How long will the moratorium last? The decision basically says that the moratorium must go on until such time that the Minister has completed the audit and has come back to Cabinet with a clear recommendation about whether the State should consolidate, own or dispose of a lot of these rights. How did the State acquire these stakes in the mining companies, but basically what we’re talking about here are rights that are held by the State either directly or indirectly. So for instance, we could have a structure such as IDC owning assets, mining assets in many other companies and do so on behalf of the State as a shareholder, and there could be many other State-owned entities that own these rights on behalf of the State. So what this decision says is that Government wants to just have an overview of all these interests that it has either directly or through other State-owned entities. And as soon as that audit is completed it will come back for a decision on the way forward.

Journalist: Themba, this is not the first time that we’ve spoken or that you’ve briefed us about Government’s awareness with regard to austerity measures etcetera. Just two questions, with regard to all the publicity around the purchase of expensive vehicles, how much have that contributed to the public concerns that you speak about here that Government is living large? And secondly, you refer to the objectives of the proposals contained in the first draft report; can you perhaps give us some of the proposals that are mentioned in that report?

Themba Maseko: Pieter, yes, you’re correct. The Minister did the briefing two weeks ago about this particular decision. So this was a progress report. There are a number of ideas that the task team is looking at. Unfortunately we are not ready to announce them because they are simply ideas. They still need to be investigated further. But they include for instance Government taking a closer look at travel expenditure, for instance overseas trips. The Task Team is not necessarily saying that Government must stop travelling. But it says that Departments must start watching the number of people who are travelling on a lot of these international trips so that if there is an invitation to attend an international conference instead of sending four people you could send one person to reduce expenditure. The Task Team also said there are indications that Government is being overcharged for some of the services it procures from the private sector, so examples could be that if you buy a computer as a Government you will pay in some cases up to 40% more than a private company or a private person would pay for the same product. So there’s a lot of the review that needs to take place on Government expenditure in totality. The task team also said that we need to look at for instance the issue of the use of consultants by the State. The Task Team is not saying that we should stop using consultants, but says to what extent we are paying money to consultants when in fact Government is also paying large salaries to senior civil servants who are supposed to be doing the work and simply shifting the work to consultants. So it’s about changing the whole culture of providing services within Government. So a number of these options have been tabled and they will be finalised at a future meeting. Whether the complaints about the purchase of cars have contributed to this, the Minister did explain at the briefing two weeks ago that we as Government we can’t be seen to be insensitive. If there is a lot of criticism of Government expenditure in a number of areas, including the purchase of cars, Government can’t be seen to be insensitive and non-responsive to that. So it’s a combination of factors, yes, including criticisms regarding the purchase of cars, but primarily the economic meltdown that everybody is experiencing and also the declining state revenues is forcing government to have another look at expenditure trends.

Journalist: Can you please give us more information on this progress report regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)? I mean, if you say the recommendations were approved, do they take into account what the Archbishop (Desmond Tutu) in his final report recommended to Government?

Themba Maseko: I don’t have the details of the recommendations here, but this will be a public document. It will be going to Parliament and you’ll have access to it. But you’ll also see Government’s response to a lot of those issues, so it’s essentially the Government basically responding to the recommendations of the TRC. But it will be a public document. Unfortunately I don’t have those details at my fingertips.

Deputy Minister Enver Surty:  Ja, just to say that, you know, it covers the TRC recommendations and it deals with amongst other things the individual compensation that had to be paid, the proposed R30 000. It deals with burials, how do you assist and it deals with symbols in community. So it’s a progress report in terms of what has been done. Certain regulations have been published, public comment has been received, so the document is quite a comprehensive statement of what has been done in relation to the TRC recommendations.

Journalist: The appointment of [off mic] of Mary Metcalfe as DG of Higher Education. There was quite a bit of controversy in the media before about perhaps having Mseleku being recommended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Was it a straightforward approval by Cabinet regarding Mary Metcalfe?

Themba Maseko: Straight approval? The recommendation was tabled, discussed very briefly, but there was unanimous support for Madam Metcalfe’s appointment.

Journalist: Three little questions. Firstly, you mentioned that this list of legislation that needs to be approved will be made available by the GCIS. When and where? This is pretty important stuff for us, could you do it today? Secondly, on the report on conflict of interest and public entities and public service commission, state of the public service report, is this going to be available? If so, when? And then regarding the Deputy Minister Surty’s input on the TRC, one wonders whether the possible prosecutions which must follow the TRC process as night follows day, whether there’s any progress on that. And finally, whether the GCIS and Cabinet disapprove of Mr. Beukman’s six years in the National Party as a Member of Parliament, from 1990 to 2005, and thus has eradicated it from his record. I see you’re only counting from 2005 when he became an ANC MP.

Themba Maseko: Firstly, the list of Bills, as I said the Bills that we distributed at the Cabinet meeting yesterday were approved previously, so they may already be in Parliament or on their way to Parliament. So what I need to do is to just check and I’ll get my team to just check where the Bills are at this particular point in time, but it will be a public document, I mean, it’s nothing… but I’ll ask the Deputy Minister to comment on this one after I’ve responded. The Public Service Commission (PSC) report, yes, it will be a public report. It may already be public but the PSC publishes all its reports so this report will also become public. I can’t give you the dates, but you will definitely see it.

With regard to Mr. Beukman’s CV, I just looked at highlights in the CV, I did not look at anything else except what’s included here. But his CV will be public so if anybody’s interested in all other details they can check that. Deputy Minister, are you able to help with the TRC’s prosecutions and the bills stuff?

Deputy Minister Enver Surty: No, thank you very much, Themba. With regard to the prosecutions itself, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) sits with that particular task. It doesn’t form part of to my knowledge the core of the report itself. But in terms of process it’s being referred to the National Prosecuting Authority to deal with the matter, so the report doesn’t specifically refer to those matters. With regard to the Bills, there is a standard procedure that follows where Parliament expects Government to indicate by the end of August what are going to be introduced, and as you correctly pointed out some of the Bills are going to be reintroduced and other Bills that are intended to be introduced, for example in education, they would have the Education Laws Amendment Bill which we intend introducing. But it has to be submitted to Cabinet first for approval and then introduced to Parliament. So various Departments have been invited to indicate which legislation they’re going to introduce. And the list that you refer to reflects both legislation that had been approved in the previous administration, and legislation that is intended to be introduced to Cabinet for approval and then to Parliament.

Journalist: Themba what the Deputy President said in Milnerton this morning was that that list was compiled and what we’re interested in is not where the Bills are in the process, it’s a list of Bills that Government believes should be passed by Parliament in this session. That’s all we require, and that’s what the Deputy President said in Milnerton this morning.

Themba Maseko: That’s exactly what I’m saying, that we will release that list today if possible. The list is available as it was distributed at yesterday’s meeting.

Journalist: On the Ministerial Task Team that’s reprioritising spending, are you saying that they didn’t mention at all that they might cut down on the amount allocated for cars because I mean what you’re telling us today about, you know, watching the number of people who are travelling, instead of sending 40 you send one. I mean, that’s nothing new, you already told us that last time. So what new kind of proposals did they talk about?

Themba Maseko: I just gave examples of things that they are looking at, and I said they’re still exploring a whole lot of things. They will bring a report as soon as they are ready, so I’m not able to give you any further details on what else they are proposing. So they came to the meeting, they said we’ve done work, these are the areas we’re looking at, but we will come with final recommendations at a subsequent meeting. So I suspect we might have to leave it there for now and wait for the committee to report.

Journalist: Just on the reprioritisation and wastage, what is the process for reprioritising government spending? What are you looking at? Where will these areas be and have there been any estimates on wastage, rough estimates even. Was the R60 billion shortfalls in revenue discussed in light of all this? What were the thoughts there? And just on the mining, is this sort of a prelude to the state mining company, and is it sort of allays calls for the nationalisation of mining?

Themba Maseko: Okay, the areas for cost-cutting, the answer will be the same, I gave to Anna. Basically what the team did was to come back and say we are doing work in this area, these are the broad principles we are looking at and these are the possible areas where we could actually suggest particular cuts. And the meeting said okay we’re noting a lot of these areas, also look at these particular areas, but most importantly come up with very clear guidelines that will guide every Government department on expenditure issues. So it’s too early at this stage to say there are decisions on this or that particular area, it is work in progress. So hopefully by the next Cabinet meeting we’ll be able to give you an update and give you a much more consolidated list of the specific areas of cost-cutting that need to be implemented. So I’m appealing to you to give us a bit more time as the Task Team is working hard. The process of identifying the priorities will include for example the Task Team meeting with individual ministers and ministries, helping them identifying areas of cost-cutting and making recommendations so that by the time the Task Team reports back it will be something that would have been checked and discussed with all the various Departments and it will be submitted for approval. But again give the team more time to finalise its work.

Whether the Task Team was also informed by the R60 billion budget shortfall, yes that was part of the factors that were taken into account at the last Cabinet meeting when this Task Team was put in place. So as I said, we looked at a lot of factors including the budget and fiscal shortfall that we are experiencing. We talked about the negative perceptions that Government seems to be living large and not responding to the economic meltdown, so all of those factors are taken into account. What we are now looking at is concrete steps that need to be taken by Government to reduce expenditure. Whether the moratorium is going to lead necessarily to the establishment of a state mining company, at this particular point in time there is no decision to set up a state mining company. However the review may actually lead Government to decide to set one up. But as I said, it’s an audit to establish what assets exist out there with a view to taking decisions whether to consolidate these, retain some of them or even dispose some of those assets. So at a subsequent meeting a final decision will be taken on the state mining company.

Journalist: I just want to know, can you elaborate more on the rural development programme, especially on the improved land reform program.

Themba Maseko: Yes, the broad programme was approved at yesterday’s meeting. It will deal with those issues that I’m mentioning in the statement there, but there will be a formal launch on the 17th which is next Monday, where the President will actually outline the details of this programme. So at this particular point in time we’re just giving you the highlights from the programme, but the President will announce the details when he launches the programme formally on the 17th.

Journalist: Just two things. Firstly, where are we with regards to the new structure of Government? I mean, we were told that a report would be made available soon to tell us you know whether all the Departments have now been established, the nitty-gritty, and how much it costs and everything. And then, back to the Government living large thing, will this Task Team also focus on provincial governments? For example, things like a provincial department taking out an advert in a newspaper to congratulate an MEC on his birthday, wasting thousands in money. I mean things like those. Will those be looked at? There are massive examples of wastage in provincial government. Will all those things be taken into account when this thing is done?

Themba Maseko: Yes. The Task Team is looking at every aspect of Government expenditure. So adverts in newspapers yes, will be part of the equation of issues that will be considered by the Task Team and brought to Cabinet, so its many other areas. It’s a long list. It will include for instance reviewing whether certain State institutions need to continue, whether certain agencies need to be managed. So it’s a whole lot of work that still needs to be done. It will look at every sphere in every aspect of Government so I’m pleading once more for a bit of patience as far as that is concerned. We’ll give you more details as soon as the Task Team has come up with concrete recommendations. But yes, the issue of adverts will be included in the recommendations of the Task Team. On the structure of Government, what normally happens at this meeting is that the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation, Minister Collins Chabane, always gives an update to Cabinet. So the update is that in fact we are on track as far as that is concerned. The President has already signed proclamations that formally establish the new government departments that transfer functions. There are still one or two outstanding areas where for instance functions need to be moved to a different department and there are debates between departments whether the function is correctly located or whether it should move to another department. But it’s only in limited cases. By and large, the progress of establishing the new structures of government is on track. If there is a request for more information on the re-establishment of the new government structure we can arrange a briefing and ask the Minister (Chabane) to do a briefing. I’m sure he’ll be more than willing to come and talk to you about that.

Journalist: Forgive me if this was canvassed by my colleagues and I missed it. Just on the moratorium on the mining assets. This seems to be coming out of the blue. I’m trying to find out what has prompted it. Have there been instances of government agencies, for example IDC or more importantly Central Energy Fund who has some coal reserves allocated to them, have there been indications that they’re trying to get rid of this and sell these things or is this more of a pre-emptive strike on the part of government to prevent agencies cashing in on some of their assets?

Themba Maseko: Okay. It’s a combination of factors but basically we are in a position where as Government we may own certain assets either directly as Government or through some of the State-owned enterprises. Part of the difficulties at this particular point in time, a lot of these assets are owned and we do not have a central point or a central database that says the State owns these foreign assets so this audit is basically an attempt to say lets stand back and understand what assets are there that are owned by the State and as you know, some of the State-owned enterprises report to different ministries within government. So we’re trying to consolidate and get all the information with a view to taking decisions about what is the best way of managing these assets on behalf of the state. Is it correct for the state to be holding certain assets? Is it correct for the state to dispose of a lot of those assets? A lot of these decisions are taken in different points within Government. So this audit is saying lets review, look at the state of play and then taking the right decisions as soon as this audit is concerned.

Journalist: The Minister of Human Settlements (Tokyo Sexwale) said that he would be putting to Cabinet his decisions on the N2 Gateway and the conflict over the transfer of 1 400 hectares of land in Cape Town. Was this matter raised and has he got a legal opinion on it?

Themba Maseko: The Minister did not report on that one, so presumably he’s still working on these matters. But the two matters did not serve at the Cabinet meeting yesterday.

Journalist: The first item on the statement about the mining issue, I would like to know what prompted Cabinet to take this decision in the first place. What instigated it?

Themba Maseko: Okay, It looks like the question is coming for the third time. I’ve just answered it. The Deputy Minister said he will comment on that one.

Deputy Minister Enver Surty: They’re putting you under a lot of pressure and I apologise on behalf of the Minister of Health but really there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s really as Themba has correctly pointed out that the assets are spread wide and really to get a central audit, a database of all assets owned by the state directly and indirectly. Obviously if there’s going to be a disposal or retention of an asset it must be in the strategic interest of the state or government. And the reason for the moratorium is to say that when you dispose or decide to retain an asset, you do so in the best strategic interest of the government. Nothing sinister, nothing untoward – it’s really both an administrative and strategic exercise to ensure that there is better cohesive approach to the retention of disposal of state assets. I don’t think I can put it more plainly but I think that’s what Themba was trying to convey to you as clearly as he could.

Journalist: Just to get back to those austerity measures that we’ve been speaking about addressing public concerns that Government is living large, does Government concede or does Government take a measure of responsibility that public concerns are now, that we everyday hear about these public concerns. Does Government take a measure of responsibility for that, looking at the much-publicised vehicle purchases?

Themba Maseko: As I was saying earlier on in response to another question, Government is not insensitive to the concerns expressed in public so if there are issues raised about wastage in the way some of the state resources are being managed, there’s wastage in expenditure in a number of areas, Government is going to not just respond but to be seen to be responding to a lot of these concerns. So part of these measures that we’re putting together are aimed at making sure that we really take into account these concerns raised by the public but most importantly, the fact that we are all experiencing an economic downturn which is having a major impact on the fiscus and therefore, we can’t continue operating as if its business as usual. The resources are becoming limited and therefore, as Government we need to not just be seen to be spending the resources prudently but we also need to take concrete steps to make sure that we begin to transform the culture in the public service about management of resources.

Journalist: Themba, just a follow-up on that. Is there a formal decision by Cabinet that no more brand new cars for a million bucks will be bought? Has that decision been taken?

Themba Maseko: No such decision taken. As we stated in the previous meeting, the regulations have made particular provision for the elected members of the Executive to acquire cars which they require to perform their duties, but because of the public outcry that came as a result of these purchases. What Government has done is to put together a Task Team to look at the expenditure in a variety of areas. But at this particular point in time there is no decision taken by Government to prevent or stop ministers from buying cars.

Journalist: Just wondering, did Cabinet get a chance to discuss the controversial statements made by one Julius Malema about the composition of the economic cluster in cabinet when he said that President Zuma had appointed what he calls minorities in the economic cluster. Was that discussed at all?

Themba Maseko: The matter was not discussed and was not on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting. I can say that if you’re looking at the economic cluster in terms of ministers, you’ll find that, that statement is actually factually incorrect. There are a number of ministers in that ministry. They don’t just include the ones mentioned in the media.

Journalist: I just want to get back to the cars. Now we know the law authorises Ministers to buy cars, but is it morally and ethically correct to do that?

Themba Maseko: Deputy Minister, do you want to comment? Not about your personal situation, just the principle.

Deputy Minister Enver Surty: Thank you very much Themba. I think what you said was indeed correct, to say that one has to be sensitive to the concerns raised by the public and to that a Task Team has been set up involving ministers. That also goes to, speaks to the austerity measures, in other words its not only about cars, its about how Government can do things better with less, so its efficiency in procurement policies, efficiency in terms of systems – some of you raised the issue of advertisements and indeed it was one of the areas that had been identified in the document which is going to be investigated much further. So it’s a comprehensive way to look at this matter. Obviously one of the responsibilities of that inter-ministerial Task Team is to come back to Cabinet with proposals which would include very directly the issue raised by you – that is in terms of the procurement of motor vehicles. So it’s a matter that would be dealt with. We certainly don’t want to anticipate or pre-empt what they’re going to say. So it would obviously address the legal, moral and the ethical issues in relation to the acquisition of motor vehicles, so I think lets just be a little patient, get the team to do its work and we will take it from there. But I understand the legitimate concerns that are being raised. Thank you.

Themba Maseko: Thank you Deputy Minister and I can assure you that Cabinet is not ducking the issue. It has been discussed and as soon as the Task Team comes back we’ll give you a report on it. It has been discussed by Cabinet.  Thank you.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)   
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)