15 May 1997
The notion and concept communication refers to an act of imparting news or information. It is essentially a process by which messages are conveyed electronically, mechanically or person to person contact. In his Budget Vote on SACS in 1995 Deputy President Mbeki said: "The Government is committed to the view that, as part of the building of a people-centred society, the people have a right to be informed about the Government`s policies, programmes and services. The Government therefore refuses to condone the continued information deprivation of large sections of our population. It therefore also has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that it keeps the people informed on continuous basis, so that they will be able to intervene in an informed and purposeful manner where their future is at stake."
SACS is one of the instruments available to Government in its endeavour to communicate its policies, programmes and information. To what extent has SACS performed its role and task?
The setting up of COMTASK in January 1996 affected the personnel component, equipment acquisition and structures of SACS. Consistent with the decision of the Government to right-size the public service voluntary severance packages were also offered to the staff of SACS. 31.9% (193 persons) decided to accept the voluntary severance package. Moreover a moratorium was placed on the recruitment and appointment of personnel until COMTASK had made its recommendations to the Deputy President Mbeki.
At present 330 (54.6%) posts are vacant and, as will be appreciated by honourable members, this has had severe consequences for the service offered by SACS as well as financial and personnel management. These posts except for exceptional circumstances will remain vacant until Cabinet pronounces itself with regard to the COMTASK recommendations.
SACS was allocated R51 373 000.00 for the 1996/97 financial year which represented a decrease of 6% compared with the budget of the previous year. An amount of R6.595million which was rolled over from 1995/96 to 1996/97 was used for merit awards, severance packages and certain services and products of SACS. The budget for 1997/98 has been further reduced by 10.6% and is R45 903 000.00.
In spite of the reduced budget and the loss of skilled personnel SACS provided with ranging services. These are :
- Media arrangements
- The parliamentary briefing week where 34 Ministers and Leaders of opposition parties addressed approximately 250 Editors, Journalists and Diplomats on Policy Matters
- 12 State/Official Visits
- 7 International Conferences in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs
- The signing of the New Constitution
- International Human Rights Day
- In addition, approximately 85% Media Releases compiled by Ministries were distributed.
- Market research
- Department of Welfare's I'M ADDICTED TO LIFE CAMPAIGN
- The Office of the President's two National Studies (Public's attitudes to Socio-Political Economic issues, and evaluation of the information needs of various community Radio stations and a few others.
- Information service
- Approximately 9 397 information enquiries were answered compared to 6 900 in 1995.
- Approximately 9 397 information enquiries were answered compared to 6 900 in 1995.
- Directories containing Government, Diplomatic Corps and Media contacts have also been compiled. This has become a popular product
- Also still in demand, the publication, South African Yearbook 1996 (Print Order was 12 900 of which 7 400 copies were distributed abroad).
- The monitoring, recording and transcription
Service of a total of 1 023 TV and Radio programmes were transferred onto Audio and Video tapes, 265 Transcriptions were made of News items and Actuality programmes.
- Press clippings
The Press Clipping service processed an average of 800 articles daily, which were copied and distributed to 97 clients.
- Video programmes
Seven Video programmes relevant to the New South Africa were completed.
During 1996, the directorate was involved in planning and executing the following projects :
- Chris Hani Memorial Water Project - Ministry of Water Affairs
- National Games & Leisure Activities Festival - Department of Sport & Recreation
- International Umbudsman Workshop - Office of the National Public Protector
- National Network Against Violence on Women - Department of Welfare
- Pan African Conference on Youth & Development - Department of Education
- Youth Day Celebrations - Department of Education
- Children Broadcasting Forum Summit
- ACCE's 10th Biennial Conference (African Council for Communication Education)
- Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights (overall communication strategy)
- President's Award for Community Initiative(RDP) - Office of the President
- Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) - Parliament/Senate
- RDP Disability Programme - Office of the Deputy President
- Human Rights Day - Department of Constitutional Development
The departments of Public Works, Home Affairs, Safety and Security and Finance received communication advice and assistance in planning their communication components.
International conferences such as UNICEF Education for All in Africa, Board Meeting of the OAU Conference of African Ministers of Information, etc., and on a daily basis, SACS liaises with the Diplomatic Corps providing them with Government related information.
Honourable Members may well want to give consideration to the amount allocated to SACS to conduct its work and operations. As Deputy President Thabo Mbeki out in his Budget Vote Speech on 24 May 1995 : "Of the total Budget allocation for the 1995/96 financial year, only 0.035% was allocated for the dissemination of information through SACS. This amounts to an expenditure of only R1.26 per citizen for the entire year."
On 19 February Cabinet examined the COMTASK report and agreed to the general thrust of its recommendations. Subject inter alia to the fact that SACS should not be closed down but be transformed into a Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).
Cabinet also approved of the establishment of a committee headed by the Deputy Minister in the Office of the Deputy President, to further examine the implication of the COMTASK REPORT and formulate a programme of action in this regard.
This committee has begun its work and intends to report to Cabinet within the next few months.
In the course of its work COMTASK received 150 written submissions as well as 61 presentations from a wide range of stakeholders and experts. Provinces were visited with financial and technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme and Commonwealth Secretariat, the Task Group travelled in teams of 2-3 members to 19 countries.
All in all there are 83 recommendations covering the following areas :
- Structures, functions of these structures,
- Personnel and training,
- Improving South Africa's image in the world
- Information development,
- Access to information and media environment.
In its executive summary the Task Group says : "A new communication system is an economic and political imperative for the information age. Its purpose must be to provide a network throughout the country which provides every citizen with the information required to live and control their lives.
The New Government Communication and Information System needs to be better co-ordinated and more focused in its messages. It should strengthen the capability of Government to communicate its policies to the people and be streamlined, credible cost effective and highly professional. To do this it will need to engage better with civil society, creating a dialogue between Government and the public."
The critical aspects of the COMTASK recommendation are that the GCIS should have three component parts:
- Media Liason
- Communication Service Agency
- Provincial Liaison
The GCIS should be managed by a small unit in the Presidency led by a Head of Government Communications. They also propose that each Minister should appoint a Head of Communication working directly from the Ministry and responsible for all aspects of departmental communications.
COMTASK also recommends that Government should consider funding the National Broadcaster on a triennial basis. It would seem to me that the Public Broadcaster has a role to play in communicating Government policies, programmes and actions to the broad population.
Obviously it should never act as a mouthpiece for any political party or for any specific school of thought. Nor should the Public Broadcaster assume the role of the voice of opposition. It should ensure that both Government and Opposition inside and outside Parliament are treated in an equitable manner. This should also, it seems to me, be the approach that is adopted by the Media that is in privates hands.
This is the last time that Parliament will discuss a SACS budget. Next year we shall discuss the budget of the GCIS. Let me therefore take this opportunity to thank most sincerely MR SOLLY KOTANE as well as all the staff members of SACS. Under exceptionally difficult circumstances they have performed their tasks admirably.
Allow me to express my gratitude to the Portfolio Committee and especially its chairperson Mr SE Moeti for their support and kind consideration.
Thank you all
Deputy Minister in the Office of the Deputy President, Dr Essop Pahad
Issued by: South African Communication Service (SACS)