Essop Pahad - GCIS budget vote

11 May 2001

11 May 2001

Madam Speaker;
Honourable Members.

It gives me great pleasure to rise and present to the house the GCIS Budget Vote. For an organisation, which was formally launched a mere three years ago, on 18 May 1998, it has notched up some significant advances. While highlighting GCIS’ several achievements it is important to bear in mind the several key challenges faced by this body and some of the areas it will be attending to in the 2001/2002 financial year.

At the beginning of this year the President in his State of the Nation Address called on South Africans to unite in our active commitment to achieving change. Today there can be no doubt that this country faces several challenges through which it can either emerge as a united nation or persist in the legacy of a country of two nations.

In the past year GCIS has been involved in several initiatives to give expression to this government’s commitment to achieving national unity. This is in stark contrast to the divisive and destructive efforts in the communications sphere by the apartheid regime, which achieved national disunity.

Our recently designed Coat of Arms is an eloquent manifestation of this democratic approach to communication. In crafting it we sought not only to dig into the deepest recesses of this land’s history but also dignified it with elements from the various tributaries which make up this great nation, South Africa.

The National Conference on Racism, where the organising theme was a ‘Nation in Dialogue’, was aimed at galvanising all sectors of South African society into a thoughtful conversation on the scourge of racism, which still stalks our beautiful land.

In mentioning the GCIS’ role in the international marketing of our country in my address last year I pointed out that it is a matter of critical importance that we join hands as South Africans to promote our country abroad. This is an issue about our self-esteem as a people. It is about our national identity; it is about our pride as South Africans.

Most of the trends reported in surveys indicate that there is a growing appreciation of the gains of our transition to democracy. Furthermore, there is confidence in this government to bring about a better life for all. But to see this transition through, to consolidate this fragile democracy, we need a nation, which has been able to overcome its historic fault-lines.

Ours is not a unique challenge. As the former Prime Minister of Piedmont remarked after the unification of Italy:

"We have made Italy; now we must make Italians."

Now that we have a democratic South African state, we must all become South Africans, proud citizens of a South Africa, which revels in its multiplicity of identities and yet seeks to connect with its African core and destiny. Our very diversity is our strength.

We want a South Africa in which society celebrates the unique attributes that it is blessed with; a South Africa in which the overarching identity of its people derives from the critical things that together we hold dear. In my view, among the symbols of our unity should be the institutions that are provided for in the Constitution, including the bodies of state charged with the regulation of national affairs.

We expect here not blind loyalty to government, but a deep commitment to the Constitution of this land and the terms of the settlement, which helped us, achieve this Constitution. This government’s vision is a profoundly modern one – the creation of a modern state on the basis of a common commitment to build a better life for all.

In essence then, this year has to mark the strengthening of the millions of threads which make us South African; the deepening of our democracy through the strengthening of the political institutions which guarantee our basic rights; greater commitment to the Constitution which is the foundation stone of our democracy; and the desire to let our pride as South Africans shine through for the world to see. The government, the opposition, the public at large and the media all have important roles to play in this endeavour.

In our Budget Vote last year we expressed appreciation of the commitment made by the SA National Editors Forum (SANEF) to engage the outcome of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) hearings into racism in the media. The HRC entrusted SANEF and the managers of media institutions to address these issues as part of transforming the media into a more professional corps, worthy of the title of Fourth Estate.

We are pleased to note that SANEF has already held several workshops with the HRC to take this process forward. We take note of SANEF’s intentions to revise the guidelines for the office of the Press Ombudsman. We trust that those who are to be the primary beneficiaries of such an office – the public – will be empowered to make better use of it.

As this process gathers momentum, it should become possible for us to transcend the trappings of innuendo and sensationalism, and together to blaze a new trail, under conditions of democracy, towards rational debate, criticism that enriches and discourse inspired by the central injunction to build a better life for all.

I am reminded here of a comment made by the respected American journalist Richard Reeves who, in his book "What the people know: freedom and the press", said:

"We took down politicians and politics without pausing to think that maybe we would be down with them. If we are in decline, it is because we have fallen into the trap of ignoring what government does and focusing on what it has done wrong".

South Africa may not yet have reached those depths: but we must be vigilant; and constantly ask ourselves the question whether what we do in all areas of endeavour, including the media, is driven by the desire to provide a public service, to build a better South Africa!

In this context I express my appreciation to those eminent African business people and professionals who took out an advertisement in the Sunday Times of May 6, 2001. Allow me to quote extracts from that statement.

"So vicious, so underhand and so sustained have the attacks on him been that even fair-minded patriotic whites have started asking serious questions about the motive behind these attacks.

We have full confidence in our President. He is intelligent, circumspect and passionate about the condition of our people and our future. We respect his leadership qualities. Yet he is human and therefore will sometimes behave as such. Where he stumbles we will hold out a hand. Where he errs, we will criticize and caution, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately, always however from a deep love for our country and people. Under his leadership we have the best government this country has ever had. He deserves acknowledgement and support."

Madam Speaker;

We raise all these issues in order to underline the critical challenge for all of us to build national consensus around issues that really matter. At the centre of GCIS’ mandate is the task of ensuring that South Africans join hands in changing their lives for the better.

The objective of ensuring that all our people, including the poor, have access to information that will make them active participants in the process of change is one that has inspired our work in the past three years. In this regard, a number of critical steps have been taken to improve government communication. But we would be misleading this House if we were to pretend that we were anywhere near the accomplishment of this objective.

A government communication system should have a corps of professional communicators, in all departments and all spheres, capable of ensuring that the message of government, the message of fundamental change, reaches all the people and galvanises them into action. Systems to ensure training and a common methodology across government have been put in place. But much, much more needs to be done to ensure professionalism in planning and execution.

A government communication system should reflect, in its day-to-day operations, integration and consistency in the content of its messages and creativity of their delivery. Through inter-departmental and other structures, joint planning and implementation have started to find concrete expression. But we would not be true to our profession, if we do not continually strive for the level of integration that is way ahead of what has been achieved in the areas of policy planning and implementation.

A government communication system should make its presence felt in all areas of policy discourse across the nation – so that the thinking, the decisions and the practical work of the nation’s elected representatives are fully appreciated by society as a whole. Strategies and practical programmes in this regard have improved over the years, creating better possibilities for pro-active interventions and the necessary rapid response capacities. But too many of our people are compelled to rely on sensation, innuendo and sound-bites as a basis of knowledge on critical social issues.

In brief, Honourable Members, we have started on the journey towards an effective government communication system – but the road ahead is still long, and negotiating its torturous bends will require even greater determination and effort on the part of all communicators.

Central among the tasks we face is to ensure direct communication between government and the people.

We therefore place a high premium on the Imbizo campaign – a style of governance that ensures interaction between members of the Executive and citizens. We have started this year to organise more and more of such events: be it in the launch of water projects, in the introduction of the legalisation campaign for taxis, in the stand of the Housing Department at the Rand Easter Show or the consultations with the elderly around issues that affect them.

Just over a week ago, President Thabo Mbeki paid a visit to the Northern Province for such comprehensive interaction with the people, as the first of such visits, which will take him to all the Provinces.

During this visit, the President interacted with over 25 000 people having had discussions at 9 meetings. He visited 6 projects and went live on a phone-in programme simulcast on three radio stations and regional television reaching over one and a half million people. And as the Sunday Times wrote: "A sense of history pervaded the visit".

Another critical element of government’s communication with the public is the initiative to set up Multi-purpose Community Centres. To date 10 such centres have become fully operational. And we are striving to ensure that, by the end of the 2002/03 financial year, at least one such centre should be operational in each district of the country.

I want to use the opportunity to thank the Minister of Home Affairs for opening the MPCC in Mpuluzi, as well as other Ministers who have taken the project to heart. My thanks also go to the Minister of Public Works for the sterling efforts made by her department to renovate, and where necessary construct, new sites for the MPCCs; and the Minister of Public Service and Administration for the efforts of her Department to integrate this important endeavour into the shared service delivery programme of government. My deepest gratitude goes to the various Provincial Governments who have spared no effort in ensuring that this programme is successfully implemented.

Direct and effective communication with the public also means the preparation of products that are as relevant in their content as they are attractive in their form. Inasmuch as there may be weaknesses, we are proud of the fact that examples of good products abound across government. Among these are the multi-media interventions by GCIS around the State of the Nation Address by the President, encompassing radio packages, leaflets and posters, special ministerial briefings, link-up with community radio stations, and participation by Ministers in radio programmes in as many of our official languages as possible.

Madame Speaker;

The challenge of ensuring dissemination of objective information, on balance, within South African society, is also closely linked to the question of the ownership of the platforms for the generation of news and analyses.

In the last Budget Vote I dealt extensively with the steps towards the creation of a Media Development and Diversity Agency. The government has embarked on the road to an MDDA to assist in redressing the imbalances around media concentration, which persist seven years into this democracy.

The GCIS released a Draft Position Paper in December after a range of meetings with most of the stakeholders concerned. The process since has been marked by thorough-going consultations, including the welcome and highly appreciated initiative by the Portfolio Committee on Communications in March this year. I am glad to report to this House that that the call I made for greater flexibility in achieving an objective that we are all committed to has been warmly received across the board.

Steadily, we should arrive at even greater degrees of consensus. And this should open the way for the amendment of the draft Position Paper and, in time, if needed, the submission to this august House of necessary legislation.

The introspection that has underpinned the discussion around the MDDA is required in even greater measure with regard to how we project the reality in our country to the outside world.

Since the last Budget Vote, the International Marketing Council (IMC) has been appointed. Government is profoundly grateful for the single-minded commitment that has been shown by the eminent leaders from the private sector who have given of their time and expertise in serving their country in this particular area. Again, in the IMC, the expression of the power of joint efforts by citizens inspired by their love for their country stands out for all to see.

Already, a powerful movement of these united efforts is starting to gather momentum across the land. Many private companies have offered their services for this purpose; and daily, one hears of initiatives being spontaneously taken to promote the boundless energy and creativity of South Africa Unlimited!

The ‘Proudly South African’ campaign launched by Nedlac, backed by members of that partnership; the tourism campaign of Satour embodied in the Circle of Sunshine initiative; the creative efforts to attract even greater investment by South Africans in their own country – all these and others are starting to work on the basis of a common approach which highlights the best that South Africa can offer.

I am confident that this House, in its various components will give the lead to the nation on this critical matter; that all of us will encourage our constituencies to work in the interest of South Africa first; that we will use the platforms afforded us to advance the objectives of our country, rather than seek to attract attention to ourselves by undermining the nation’s institutions and efforts.

Honourable Members;

These then are some of the core tasks undertaken by the Government Communication and Information System. They underpin GCIS’ approach to the many campaigns that government is engaged in: including the challenge of spreading the message about HIV/AIDS, promotion of the rights and obligations enshrined in our constitution, entrenching the corporate identity of government, and specific projects in the areas of economic growth and job creation, prevention and combating of crime, rural development and urban renewal.

To fulfil all these responsibilities, GCIS continues to improve itself as a young and vibrant member of the public service family.

In this regard, I should say that I am proud to be associated with a department, which in three quick years has made tremendous strides in building a creative establishment representative of the South African population. Of the 318 positions currently filled, Africans make up 68.5%; whites 20.1 %; Coloureds 7.9% and Indians 3.5%.

I am pleased to report that the level of gender representivity has improved tremendously. Women comprise 48.1% of the entire staff, with women making up 41.7% of senior management. African, Indian and Coloured women make up almost 30% of senior management. [Or 7 out of every 10 women in Senior Management are black]

The percentage of disabled, almost 1%, whilst short of the 2% objective set out for the Public Service, is an area the management has undertaken to look into – with a mind to ensure representation in the management echelons.

I wish to express my warm appreciation for Mr Joel Netshitenzhe, the CEO of GCIS, his deputy Mr Abba Omar and the senior management and staff of GCIS for their sterling work and contributions during the past year. May I also thank the Chairperson, Mr N Kekana and all members of the Portfolio Committee, it remains a pleasure and a priviledge to work with you.

It is therefore with pride and confidence that I commend this Budget of the GCIS for your adoption.

I thank you

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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