In response to media queries, the GCIS wishes to clarify the main issues pertaining to its recent campaign.
1. What was the outcome of the meeting between opposition parties and Cabinet on 31 March 1999?
Cabinet reiterated the mandate of GCIS to inform the public about government activities, in line with the Constitution and government policy. It was emphasised that what GCIS had disseminated was based on the pronouncements of the President and Cabinet members; and that the parties had not identified anything that was false in this material.
It was noted that it was inherent in the nature of the relationship between Government and! Opposition Parties that there would be a contest about Government policy and pronouncements. The duty of the Opposition defined by itself is to oppose Government.
The meeting also noted that during a formal election period, it may well be necessary to introduce regulations regarding the pronouncements and activities of all institutions, including GCIS. This matter needed to be handled by the IEC, the IBA and Party Liaison Committees.
2. Was the GCIS project part of the election campaign?
In his 1997 State of the Nation Address at the opening of parliament, the President said:
"Reading the reports by all Ministers on their progress and plans brought many pleasant surprises, to me personally, at the achievements being registered. However, this also measures the extent of government's failure to make its activities sufficiently visible to the public... Because the public has the right to this information; because it must be the common property of the nation, we have taken the step of producing a Mid-Term Report to the Nation. That report will shortly be available…" through South African Communication Service (SACS), the predecessor to GCIS.
As such, the practice of producing and distributing material deriving from the President's speech at the opening of parliament, as well as Ministerial briefings, is not a new one; and it is seen by the highest office in the land as critical to government work. In 1997, a package containing the President's State of the Nation Address and Ministerial briefings was prepared for mass distribution. 5-million copies of the 1998 update was printed in all official languages.
What was done this year was merely an improvement on previous work; and the timing of publication is determined solely by the timing of the opening of parliament.
3. What are the regulations governing GCIS during an election period?
The IEC, working with the Inter-party Liaison Committee may work out such regulations, defining the parameters within which government should communicate its activities. These regulations do not exist yet.
However, during its presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Communications, on 24 February 1999, GCIS indicated that it would wind down some of its operations during the formal election period: not because during other periods it says and does wrong things; but as a matter of democratic sensibility. Once such regulations come into effect, applying to many institutions, the GCIS will observe them to the letter.
4. Are we in an election period? What is such a period?
It cannot be left to the whims of parties or individuals to determine that a formal election period has started. In the 1993 Electoral Act, an election period was defined as the period after the proclamation of the election date.
The 1998 Electoral Act does not formally pronounce on the matter of the election period; but our understanding is that the Independent Electoral Commission will indicate the date on which its Code of Conduct and other matters such as party political broadcasts will come into effect.
The suggestion by the opposition parties that we are in the midst of an election period is therefore a reflection of their own subjective campaign programmes rather than the formal realities that are critical for regulation of societal activity.
5. Can public servants hold positions in political parties?
According to the Public Service Act of 1994:
Section 36: "Subject to the provisions of section 20 (g), an officer or employee may-
be a member and serve on the management of a lawful political party;
attend a public political meeting, but may not preside or speak at such a meeting; and
not draw up or publish any writing or deliver a public speech to promote or prejudice the interest of any political party."
Section 20: "An officer, other than a member of the services or an educator or a member of the National Intelligence Services, shall be guilty of misconduct and may be dealt with in accordance with section 21, if he or she - …
- makes use of his or her position in the public service to promote or to prejudice the interests of any political party"
Cell: 082 900 0083
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)