Essop Pahad - Budget vote of the GCIS

08 June 2000

8 June 2000

Madame Speaker;
Honourable members.

Our march to a better life requires that each and every South African should put shoulders to the wheel – all of us as partners in transforming ours into a society that cares. We must know our rights and exercise them, in the same measure as we take on our collective responsibility to build South Africa into a nation of our dreams.

A fundamental prerequisite for this is that South Africans – rich and poor, black and white – should be able to access information necessary for them to live their lives to the full in an increasingly complex world. From the boardrooms to the coalface of production, from the leafy suburbs to the dusty roads of ghettoes and villages, from the greenery under irrigation to the bare earth washed raw by years of soil erosion, we all need information that we can use.

Such is the task of communication in general and government communication in particular.

We therefore celebrate this third Budget Vote of the Government Communication and Information System, keenly aware of the immense challenges facing us. We know that we cannot as yet claim that information is a right fully exercised.

But we dare celebrate because the difficult journey has started. As we review the past year, and set out tasks for the coming one, we can say with confidence that, steadily but surely, more and more members of the public are being drawn into the information cycle; more and more people are gaining direct access to information they deserve; more and more South Africans are gaining an understanding of the social dynamics in the country.

What gives us this confidence, and what is the environment in which we have to conduct our work?

Research carried out by GCIS on behalf of Cabinet, as well as other surveys, during the 1999/2000 financial year consistently point to a broadly optimistic outlook among South Africans. There is greater appreciation of the government’s policies and activities, and a markedly positive view of the general political situation in the country.

Included in the key feedback of such research is the deeply rooted conviction among the majority that government can only succeed if it works in partnership with the people.

Partnership for development has also been the principle guiding the programmes of Government Communications. We fully appreciate that we are one among the thousands of purveyors of information on social developments in our country. As such, we take particular interest in the quality of mediums of discourse.

The hearings of the Human Rights Commission on racism in the media represented a critical element of the self-examination that all such mediums require. Let me restate that while we viewed the decision of the HRC to conduct these hearings as necessary and correct, we fully respected their independence. Thus, as government, we called for the HRC and the media to reach consensus on the modalities of the hearings – an outcome that was attained in spite of the thousand voices of condemnation.

It is heartening that the introspection generated by these hearings has given a spur to the efforts of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and other media organisations to deal with this matter of racism as part of the process of transforming our media and improving the quality, integrity and credibility of the profession. It is our hope that the final report of the HRC will set in motion processes that should, in the final analysis, give South Africa the media it deserves.

Needless to say, such is our partnership with the media that none of us can succeed without the other. Thus GCIS has taken it upon itself to continually improve the service it renders to the media. In our co-ordination of government media liaison work, we have striven to ensure that Ministers and officials are available to assist with information required and to avail themselves for briefings and interviews. Gradually, what had in the past been a litany of complaints is becoming an exception rather than the norm.

In addition to regular press breakfasts and other ministerial briefings, we are upgrading our news service to community media into an on-line government service. With the installation of video conferencing facilities, the space and time between the two capitals has become that much smaller, and the lives of journalists that much easier. Besides the general improvement in the government’s website, we are also proud of the innovations that have been introduced, including live video and text transmissions of major activities, involving particularly the President.

But, Honourable Members, it is a matter of course that improving on what exists, in terms of mediums of communication, cannot address the massive information needs of all of society. Clearly, communities require the means not only to receive information; but also the right to impart their own news and views.

It is in this context that we have intensified the efforts towards the establishment of a Media Development and Diversity Agency. Despite some changes with regard to media ownership, the voices, particularly print media, remain in a few hands. Despite greater black and female participation in decision-making, the country’s media still do not adequately cater for the multiplicity of information needs within our vast country. The emergence of community voices in radio needs to be sustained and spread more widely, including into print.

The initiative towards the MDDA, headed by an inter-departmental Steering Committee, has gathered momentum, with widespread consultations involving key stakeholders – media owners, community media representatives, NGO’s, editors, the advertising industry and regulatory bodies, among others.

Among the areas of consensus which have been identified, and which are contained in the Position Paper, soon to be released for public comment, are:

  1. firstly, the setting up of the MDDA is in the interest of our democracy and existing media, and such a body should have an arms-length relationship with government as well as public and private media houses;
  2. secondly, government, the private media sector and international donors should mobilise resources to contribute to media diversity and this should include funds, training, print and distribution facilities;
  3. thirdly, the MDDA should be a body with the necessary authority, and it should have a small structure with the best systems of corporate governance;
  4. fourthly, its operations should be transparent, and it should provide assistance on the basis of broad criteria set out in policy; and
  5. lastly, the MDDA should not interfere in matters of media content.

GCIS is finalising research into detailed funding possibilities; and again in this area, some common ground has been found, including that we would avoid compulsory levies, given a commitment on the part of the private sector to contribute; that all other funds in government dealing with media development would be amalgamated into the MDDA process; that a hierarchy of forms of assistance should be devised, including part-subsidies, grants and soft loans; and that the ratio of administrative expenditure to disbursements should not exceed 20 to 80.

We intend to complete this process in the 2001/2002 financial year, so at last, South Africa can take yet another giant step towards true freedom of expression – the right to information and the possibility for millions to be heard.

However, Madame Speaker, ensuring that the people have access to information is not a matter merely of freedom of expression. It is also about good governance. After all, government is about the regulation of social activity by elected representatives in partnership with the people themselves.

It is in this context that GCIS is at the head of a major initiative to bring government closer to the people, in the form of Multi-Purpose Community Centres or One-Stop Government Centres. Working with virtually all the departments and a number of parastatals, a national co-ordinating structure has been established and 3 MPCC’s have been launched.

By the end of the 2001/2002 financial year, each district of the country should have one such centre, providing government services such as information, welfare, home affairs, small business advice, and health services. In such a centre, public information terminals as well as computers, telephones and faxes in a tele-centre would also be provided, including in the most remote areas of the country. Indeed, through this effort, we shall not only be able to consolidate community life, but also ensure that the latest technology is employed to fight poverty and ensure access to information and resources. If anything, the enthusiasm of communities where such launches have taken place, is itself confirmation that we are on the right course.

But major undertakings of this nature bring with them major challenges. These include training, ensuring that departments operate in an integrated manner, commitment from departments to provide efficient services as well as sustainability and maintenance. We are addressing these issues, and we urge that Honourable Members take it upon themselves to assist with the monitoring of these centres.

We are confident that, through co-operation among the three spheres of government, which has characterised the centres so far launched; through the re-allocation of staff and equipment by the departments; through partnership with the private sector, organised into the Private Sector Consortium – and with whom we will be holding a special workshop in July – through all these efforts, we shall be able to achieve both the quantity and the quality of services envisaged.

This programme, and our growing partnership with African language and community radio will improve the contact between government and those citizens otherwise by-passed in the normal course of public discourse. This is what we mean by development information: information for development.

But we are also intensely aware that bettering the lives of the poor requires a partnership between our country and the international community of investors, sports-persons, traders, cultural workers, tourists and others.

It is therefore a matter of critical importance that we join hands as South Africans to promote our country abroad. After the decision of Cabinet on this matter, a Project Manager has been appointed, who is bringing together line functions such as Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Finance, Home Affairs, Tourism and Sport, as well as SATOUR and Investment South Africa in a major integrated drive to develop and promote Brand South Africa.

This Project Team will work under an International Marketing Council chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which, in addition to government bodies, will include advisors from the private sector. The Minister will soon be announcing members of the Council who will help build a strong country partnership blending creativity, experience, vision and drive, to position our country where it belongs – as a prime tourist and investment destination, as a trading partner, and as a co-worker with others in building a better world.

I am certain that, in its work, the International Marketing Council will interact with Honourable Members, to ensure that we join hands as ambassadors of a country that possesses the ingredients to succeed; as communicators who portray the country as it is, rather than what it should not be. I suppose we all agree that the recent visits of our President to Europe and the Americas, again confirm South Africa’s standing in world affairs. The challenge is how we work together to build on these achievements.

This is a challenge about our self-esteem as a people. It is about our national identity; it is about our pride as South Africans. In this regard, the concrete achievements that we make together within South Africa play a critical role. Yet we cannot underestimate the function of national symbols.

It is therefore a matter of great pride that GCIS was intimately involved in the development of ents and Design South Africa. Out of this process emerged a crest that is emerging, along with our national flag, as a symbol of national unity. I trust that in the not too distant future these halls, our streets, factories, schools and homes will resound to the sound of !ke e: /xarra //ke – unity in diversity!

For government, the Coat of Arms is more than just about symbolism. Together with the Department of Public Service and Administration, GCIS has started the process of ensuring that the introduction of the new Coat of Arms goes hand-in-hand with the regeneration of the spirit and practice of Batho Pele – putting people first.

Madame Speaker;

Members will have realised that most of the projects we have referred to, involve more than just GCIS, but a host of departments in joint effort. The Coat of Arms, international marketing, Multi-Purpose Centres and others place GCIS at the coalface of the re-engineering of government for integrated planning and implementation. The same applies to major transversal campaigns such as those around HIV/AIDS, Voter Education, Y2K Awareness and the Arms and Investment Procurement Package.

One of the critical ways in which GCIS provides leadership and eation of government’s communication strategy. The clusters of departmental communicators and individual departments are then meant to develop subsidiary strategies using the national strategy as the framework.

This process, introduced only last year, has obviously not gone smoothly. To start with, government as a whole is grappling with the theory and praxis of integrated governance. Other problems faced include the capacity of individual departmental communicators; resources allocated to communications and access of some communicators to management planning processes.

The majority of departments have restructured in line with Comtask recommendations and prepared their own strategies; and training continues to improve quality of output. We are confident that working with Directors-General and Ministers we will ensure that communication receives the attention it deserves in the interest of good governance.

GCIS is also working with provincial communicators regarding training and development of communication strategies. And progress has been made in setting up a national training infrastructure for communicators. This includes the establishment of a standards-generating body, a quality assurance body, a database of service providers, a national skills audit and the running of courses.

At the same time, GCIS is improving on its track record of rendering excellent design, print and audio-visual production services. The bulk-buying approach has, in some instances, resulted in as much as a 30% discount on TV advertising and 10% on print.

In order to play the role expected of it, GCIS itself has had to go through intense transformation. Primary in this is the project management approach, which affords GCIS the capacity to provide integrated multi-media services to our clients. About 20% of staff have been trained in the project management approach. And in almost all respects, the GCIS has broadly achieved levels of representation reflective of the demographics of the country.

We have also built mutually-beneficial relations with our counter-parts in SADC, India, the UK and in the new Pan-African News Agency initiative.

Honourable Members;

These then are some of the activities of the Government Communication and Information System. What we present to you in commending this budget is certainly not brick and mortar; but it is about the spiritual sustenance without which reconstruction and development will be a wish beyond the horizon.

Ours is a slow and painstaking task of contributing to the building of a nation inspired by the civic duty to become active participants in social change, and moved by the passion to see South Africa succeed. And we know too well that information is one of the critical weapons in the fight against poverty. For millions of people, especially in the far-flung villages of our country, information on health matters, bursaries and welfare grants – to quote but a few examples – is literally a matter of life and death; the dividing line between opportunity and a wretched existence, between haplessness and hope.

If through its efforts, GCIS has made the slightest contribution to this endeavour, we will be assured that we have played our part.

For this, I wish to thank the Secretariat of GCIS and the rest of the staff for their commitment to the profession, in the service of the people. I also wish to thank the Portfolio Committee, whose advice and critical scrutiny have spurred us on towards the excellence for which we aspire.

Thank You.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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