15 May 2003
Five years ago, with its first budget debate in this National Assembly, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) was launched. Its task was to become the communication agency of a government leading a society undergoing reconstruction and development.
Its task was the antithesis of what had been known as 'information' in the apartheid era. It was proactive instead of defensive; economical rather than spendthrift; soundly accountable instead of corrupt; transparent instead of secretive. It was a totally new era in information, in line with the democratic norms accepted by the nation in 1994, building on the first moves out of the Information morass immediately following our new order
Five years later it is instructive to look back to the vision that informed the setting up of GCIS, so that we can measure what progress has been made and what challenges remain. That vision was embodied in the report of the Communications Task Team (Comtask) which completed its work in 1996.
The directions Comtask mapped out and the values it proclaimed are still our guide. Among the matters that Comtask recommended for urgent implementation were the setting up of a Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) and a strategy for integrated international marketing.
Although it took longer than initially envisaged, the fact that these two agencies now exist and are working to promote communication objectives of reconstruction and development can be counted as a major achievement and a cause for pride. They are significant milestones in our march to a healthy and effective information system in a democratic order.
It is a great pleasure that the first Chairperson of the Board of the MDDA, Khanyi Mkonza, is present with us today.
The vision that must guide us in assessing what has been done and in measuring the challenges that remain, is that of a nation of informed citizens actively participating in improving their lives and the well-being of their society; of a society in which the rights of freedom of information and expression are enjoyed concretely by all; of a country which has the informed respect of the peoples of the world.
That vision translates into strategic priorities for government's communication agency:
- Ensuring effective government communication that empowers citizens to become agents of change;
- Helping democratise the communications environment, broadening access to the means of acquiring and imparting information and ideas; and
- Improving South Africa's image in the world
Addressing our legacy of imbalances in access to the means of communication is a complex and intricate process.
Amongst these is the transformation of the marketing and advertising industry. GCIS, together with the Department of Communications and the Department of Trade and Industry, took up the challenge which the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications issued to government and the private sector to work together to bring about change in an industry which has a critical role not only in helping citizens engage with the market place, but also in shaping our conception of ourselves as a society.
The three departments have finalised a report which will serve before Cabinet with proposals for the development, in consultation with the industry, of a framework for transformation in line with Government's strategy for broad-based empowerment.
Recently, representatives of industry bodies and government together took part in a ceremony for the signing of a Values Statement expressing the joint commitment to the achievement of a marketing, advertising and communications industry reflective of our democratic society.
A process that began amidst considerable mistrust and fragmentation has achieved a remarkable degree of consensus on the direction and pace of change needed. Preparations are under way for a mid-year plenary meeting to review progress and set benchmarks.
Exactly one year and one day ago this House adopted the Media Development and Diversity Agency Bill, as "one small but significant contribution to the task of translating the aspiration of freedom of expression into actuality".
The President appointed the MDDA Board in December, after work had been done to consolidate the funding commitments by the media owners, some of which have shown exemplary support.
Since its first meeting in January the Board has moved in a purposeful way, and set itself a timetable which will put it in a position to invite applications for support by August. It will therefore begin providing support to community and small commercial media projects by the end of this year.
GCIS has given all the support required by the MDDA, especially the kind of practical administrative support that is critical in the initial start-up phase. Both the R3 million set aside for the MDDA in the GCIS budget for last year and the R7 million for this financial year have been transferred to the MDDA.
GCIS is also facilitating MDDA interaction with other government departments - in particular the Department for Communication - and parastatal agencies, so that it can draw practical support from their relevant programmes.
Compared with the start up of similar agencies, I believe the MDDA is moving with commendable speed under the guidance of its Chairperson, reflecting the commitment of the Board and stakeholders to meeting the imperatives of media development and diversity in South Africa. This diversity is cardinal to our success as a democratic society in which the people are empowered to make their own decisions on matters of the day.
The establishment of the MDDA, and the process towards the transformation of the marketing and advertising industry are pointers to progress in implementing strategic priorities identified by Comtask. In the first nine years of our freedom - and the five since GCIS was established - the tide has turned.
The scene has been set for significant further improvements in ensuring that our attributes as a country are appreciated in full measure.
Honourable Members will by now be aware of the start of the International Marketing Council's Brand South Africa campaign. The Chief Executive Officer of the International Marketing Council (IMC), Yvonne Johnston recently briefed the Portfolio Committee on Communications on this campaign. The IMC is itself another good example of state-private co-operation. As with all that we strive for, we start from the premise that effective and lasting achievement of national objectives is possible only when we unite in action. Therefore the work to improve our country's image in the eyes of others begins with doing whatever we can as South Africans to live the hope and refreshing possibilities that our country offers to the rest of the world.
The period of comprehensive and thorough planning has come to an end. As the campaign begins to roll out it is attracting support by the week from individuals and organisations that seek to add their voice to the message that ours is a country alive with possibility. As it gathers strength we will no doubt be hearing less and less from those South Africans who feel compelled to present our country in a negative light, unlike the tourists who come in increasing numbers; the ratings agencies that upgrade their assessment of our economy virtually every year; and the investors eager to buy our eurobonds and set up shop in South Africa.
GCIS has also begun more systematically to develop relations with our counterparts in Southern Africa - in particular assisting the governments of Mozambique and Tanzania in initiatives to strengthen their communication capacity, while learning from their considerable experiences. The department also works with the Department of Foreign Affairs on various initiatives relating to the African Union (AU), New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The most critical challenge which Comtask posed for the creation of a new government communications and information system was to strengthen the capability of government to communicate its policies to the people. Two obstacles stood in the way - lack of co-ordination and focus in government communication; and a legacy of severe imbalances in access to information.
Government and the people are being brought closer together in a number of ways.
The rollout of 60 Multi-purpose Community Centres (MPCCs) to each district in the country is now more than halfway done - 37 are operational. It is quite clear that these one-stop centres for government information and services are making an enormous impact on the lives of those they serve, mainly people who previously had little or no access to government services. For such people the cost of transport even to do something as simple as getting a form to register a child's birth was prohibitive.
For the next phase we should hope to work towards having an MPCC with a one-stop government centre in every municipality.
How to achieve this is something that is being worked on by the Inter-ministerial Task Team on Integrated Service Delivery. We are also convinced that this is an initiative which can benefit from the participation of our social partners, and we will be taking it to the Growth and Development Summit for discussion.
A taste of things to come will be seen in the launch of the first phase of the Batho Pele Gateway project of the Department of Public Service and Administration in the coming months. Six of the initial entry points to the government Batho Pele Gateway will be located in MPCCs. That includes the Tombo MPCC in the Eastern Cape, the first MPCC to be launched in 1999/2000.
Direct interaction between the executive, in all spheres, and the public has been increased by the rapid growth of the Imbizo programme since it was initiated by the President in Limpopo Province in April 2001. Public enthusiasm for the opportunity to interact directly with the executive has seen the National Imbizo Focus Weeks expand from 170 events in October 2001, to 300 in April 2002, 320 in November 2002 and over 350 in April 2003.
If one adds to this the Imbizo visits to Provinces by the President and Deputy President and the almost continuous outreach programmes of the provincial executives, it is clear that izimbizo are becoming central to government communication and an essential feature of the participatory democracy taking root in our country.
To cope with the challenge of processing concerns that are not immediately dealt with as they are raised, GCIS is developing an information management system to improve follow-up and feedback.
On the other hand, the direct interaction of the executive and the public through Imbizo is already making an impact on governance. This affects both the detail of implementation and the direction of policy itself.
For example, the experience of Imbizo helped shape various important initiatives, to cite just some examples: to introduce an echelon of community development workers into the public service; to speed up the programme for the improvement of rural roads; to the "Know your rights" campaign on water services by the Minister of Water Affairs; and to the decision to introduce Public Works programmes in the Bekkersdal area in Gauteng.
Also part of the effort to provide all South Africans with access to information about their government has been the shift towards media and modes of communication which research shows to be more effective in reaching wider sections of the population.
For example looking at the wave of publicity following the President's State of the Nation Address, whereas in 2002 newspaper advertisements absorbed 70 per cent of the cost, this was 32 per cent in 2003 - the media used has shifted towards radio and other forms of direct distribution. Part of the shift was a live link up with 48 community radio stations for the President's address; live broadcasts through the "Big Screen" programme to 58 community-based imbizo events at MPCCs and other satellite points. In consultation with organisations representing people with disabilities, information about the programme of action is being disseminated in braille and on tape.
Parallel to these efforts to extend access to government information has been attention to the other side of the coin highlighted by Comtask - more co-ordination and focus in government communication.
This has been pursued by consolidation of the integrated government-wide system of communicators who are clustered to match the clustering of government.
Steps are also being taken to enhance communication capacity in the local sphere of government, following the first-ever conference of local government communicators hosted by South African Local Government Association in June 2002 with the assistance of GCIS.
Strategic guidance of government communication by Cabinet has been strengthened in two ways.
The first is more active oversight by Cabinet Committees of the implementation of cluster communication strategies as part of their general oversight of the work of clusters. The second is the continuation of Cabinet's discussion of current issues also from a communications perspective, a practice whose introduction I noted during last year's debate on the GCIS budget vote. The positions adopted by Cabinet on all matters of public interest are communicated not only through the regular statements issued and briefings given after each Cabinet meeting but also disseminated by GCIS more widely through Bua Briefs to opinion-makers in the private sector.
Though there is still a long way to go, clear progress has been made.
At the heart of all the communication campaigns have been the themes of partnership and shared responsibility - letsema and vuk'uzenzele - in order to build on the progress made as a foundation for accelerated implementation.
Trends in public opinion compared to previous years suggest that such communication is consistent with the public mood. In turn this matches the evidence of the impact that government programmes are making on the lives of South Africans.
As such, the empty vessels who make noise about our people being worse off now than under apartheid serve not only to expose their ignorance, but also their disgraceful yearning for a past that shall never return. That, we should remember, was a time when the majority of the population were locked out of every significant aspect of South African life.
Since the SANEF/Cabinet Indaba two years ago much has been done to develop the relationship between media and government in ways that should lead to a better understanding of government policies and programmes. No doubt the recent establishment of the Presidential Press Corps will make a further contribution in that direction. Already, numbers of briefings have been held which have helped to throw light on important issues and strengthen communication between Presidency and media.
This has been a brief overview of work that has been done by GCIS over the past five years, and the past year in particular, to achieve the strategic priorities it was assigned by Cabinet in the light of the Comtask report.
In doing this work GCIS made use of the public funds appropriated for that purpose by this House. Taking into account R1,6m funds already committed during the financial year which the National Treasury has been requested to roll over, GCIS effectively used all its allocated funds. Should National Treasury not approve the roll over request, GCIS would have spent 99% of its funds.
The budget for the financial year 2002/03 was R153,7 million (including allocations to the IMC and MDDA), rising to R176 million in 2003/04. That compares with R60,2 million for the first year in 1998/99. For this increase, reflecting the fact that GCIS has been entrusted with additional functions, we should thank the National Assembly.
What has been achieved during these past five years to improve the communication environment; to improve South Africa's international image; to strengthen government communication and to broaden access to government information has played a part - small no doubt but significant - in contributing to the general progress in the lives of millions of South Africans that reflects the fact that indeed the tide has turned. This is increasingly being recognised by informed opinion locally and abroad.
With the funds allocated for the year 2003/2004 GCIS intends to build on the progress made towards the realisation of the vision of a society of informed citizens who were their own liberators and are now actively engaged in changing their lives for the better - building a people's contract for a better South Africa.
In this achievement, Parliament, and in particular the Portfolio Committee on Communications, has been an invaluable partner and guide, and I should like to commend the deft and dedicated way its chairperson, the Hon Nat Kekana, has conducted himself, sometimes in difficult circumstances and amid heavy attacks from certain quarters, now that he is moving on to new pastures. We wish him well as he deploys his considerable skills, though still in the cause of communication.
Lastly, I should like to place on record my thanks to GCIS for work so well done, and particularly to the CEO, Mr Joel Netshitenzhe, for his indefatigable efforts.
I take this opportunity to commend the GCIS budget to the House. I do so by noting the remark by Bacon that "knowledge is power", and adding the thought that "democratic power is knowledge".
Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad
Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)