Essop Pahad - GCIS budget vote

16 May 2002

16 May 2002

Madame Speaker
Honourable Members

No longer can GCIS be presented as an infant institution, impressing its elders with the speed of its transformation into a communications agency for a democratic government.

In the time-scale of our young democracy, a department entering its fifth year must be counted amongst established institutions and it must be assessed as such, on the basis of its performance.

It must be assessed not only by its success in breaking with the past, but by its responsiveness to the needs of the moment and its sensitivity to future trends.

It must be measured by the degree to which our government as a whole is communicating in a way that assists the people of South Africa to participate actively in improving their own lives and in the governance of our country.

How well prepared is GCIS to lead the communication of a government whose watchword is the call to all citizens to Lend a Hand. And whose line of march is to push back the frontiers of poverty.

Indeed it is precisely these directions that define the major communications initiatives that the government communication and information system has been involved in during the past year and which it is planning for the coming year.

The list includes: Multi-Purpose Community Centres; the International Marketing Campaign; Imbizo; the redesign of our National Orders; multi media mass communication campaigns - these are all about government and society acting together for transformation that eradicates the legacy of apartheid. They are about uniting a nation in pursuit of a better life for all South Africans, especially the poor.

I would therefore like to note the progress that is being made on all these fronts.

Bringing government close to the people, especially the poor

Bringing government closer to the people and to the poor in particular means extending the infrastructure of government information and services into previously neglected communities.

The imperative of doing this in an integrated way is a central tenet of this government’s programme. Public understanding of this need has deepened through media focus on the distress of families unable to access Child Support Grants for lack of birth certificates and ID books.

The roll-out of the MPCCs is therefore a priority. There are now 18 MPCCs in operation. During this financial year over 20 new ones are to be launched and by the end of 2003 there will be 60, one in each district.

This morning I attended a public event at the Bonteheuwel MPCC, as part of the public account that needs to be given of what use is made of the funds which are granted to GCIS.

There are many kinds of centres known as Multi Purpose Community Centres. Although the Bonteheuwel centre is not one of those fully-fledged MPCCs that offers several government services, its service to the community underlines the importance of MPCCs.

Those who were present at the event were a cross section of those in government and civil society who work together to make a success of the programme.

They included people from MPCCs across the country, who have also been invited to be present in the House today to witness our democracy at work as I account to you.

They have come from various areas across the country – such as Botshabelo in the Free State; Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape Province Province; Lebotlwane in the North West Province; Atlantis in this Western Cape province; Tombo in the Eastern Cape; Mbazwana in KwaZulu-Natal; Kwanobuntu in the Western Cape; a client of the Matsamo MPCC in Mpumalanga; and, of course, from Bonteheuwel, Western Cape Province. Though it was not possible to get representatives here today from other provinces, they too have thriving MPCCs.

Our guests give visible expression to the spread of the MPCCs across the length and breadth of South Africa.

As the programme advances new possibilities and challenges arise. In a country of over 40 million people, 60 MPCCs can only be a base from which we start. We need therefore to begin to think through a framework for a second phase after 2003.

Executive support for the MPCC programme over the past year has sharply raised its profile. Launches by the President, Deputy President and several Ministers have given impetus to the programme and strongly linked it to the government’s commitment to interactive governance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the executive for what they have done in this regard.

Bringing government closer to the people and to the poor in particular means that members of the executive, in all spheres, should interact directly with the public around implementation of government’s programme of action.

It means going to communities wherever they are and assessing the effectiveness of our programmes in improving their lives. It means listening to the people and learning from them how government could better work with them to implement the things that government was elected to do. This interaction, through Imbizo, is an essential contribution to the participative and people-centred democracy that we are building.

The Imbizo programme had just begun when I last addressed this House on the GCIS Budget Vote. It has advanced beyond expectation.

By now the President has made extended Imbizo visits to three provinces – Limpopo, Eastern Cape and three weeks ago to the Free State. The Deputy President has made two such provincial visits. The first National Imbizo Focus Week in November saw national, provincial and local government interacting with communities around the theme of cooperative governance for local delivery. In the recent Focus Week in April, Imbizo took place in some 300 localities.

Such is the public enthusiasm for this interaction, and government’s commitment to it, that we expect the next Focus Week in October to be even more extensive. There is no reason why there should not be Imbizo events in every local government area in the country!

Attention has been given to involving the media in Imbizo. Their role has been an important and supportive one. In reporting on Imbizo they have helped popularize it. Radio phone-in programmes in various languages have extended the interaction between government and the people. When the President visited the Free State he was accompanied, for the first time, by members of the soon-to-be-established Presidential Press Corps.

Initially there seemed to be scepticism amongst the media, even cynicism at what they suspected might be merely a public relations campaign. Exposure to the practice has, we believe, shown it to be an important part of enhancing the effectiveness and accountability of government. From what we read and from our own interaction with the media, it would seem that Imbizo is not only bringing government closer to the people, but that it is also succeeding in bringing the media closer to the experience of the majority of South Africans.

The lessons of the recent Imbizo programmes are currently under review with a particular focus on the effectiveness of follow-up and feedback.

Bringing government closer to the people and especially to the poor means communicating with the mass of South Africans in the media they use and in the languages they prefer.

It means conveying information they can use to improve their own lives – information that allows them to participate in shaping the direction of the country. It may be about how to get the birth certificates that are necessary to benefit from Child Support Grant. It may be about government’s policies and programmes.

This includes ensuring that the public hears the facts about the progress that is being made in improving the lives of the majority of South Africans. This matters in a climate in which wrong perceptions of "lack of delivery" are repeated almost daily and have become something of a paradigm in perceptions of our country, tending to erode confidence in our democracy, in South Africa and internationally.

The result of last year’s census will in due course give a comprehensive picture of how life has changed since we achieved democracy. But the steady implementation by departments of programmes of reconstruction and development, reflected in their regular reports of output, is certainly having an impact.

The scale of that impact is beginning to be discernible. A "Development Index" recently published by the private sector South African Advertising Research Foundation concludes that its data "shows extensive development in South African living standards for the period 1994-2001". This is consistent with the report Statistics South Africa published last year based on its Household Surveys, showing increased access to social service infrastructure from 1995-1999.

Given the limited access that especially poor South Africans have to the media, extending the reach of government information through direct communication is imperative.

To that end GCIS has been extending the scale and the range of its information products in mass multi-media campaigns. Since this year’s State of the Nation Address government’s message and programme has reached millions through advertisements in the main newspapers; two million copies of the Mid Term Review; radio dramas on the Programme of Action in all official languages; and radio phone-in programmes in which millions of listeners to the public broadcaster and community radio have been able to put direct questions to the President and other members of the Executive.

The information in the recent advertisements on continuity and change in government’s policy on HIV/AIDS will soon appear in five million leaflets in South Africa and abroad.

We would be the first to say that while there is improvement, there is much more to do to ensure that people everywhere have the information they need to know about their rights and the services that are available as a result of government’s programmes. In particular the economic cluster of departments is discussing a campaign to publicise the economic opportunities that have been created.

And while there has been a shift towards more use of radio compared with a previous emphasis on print, the needs of those who do not read will receive more attention. GCIS has just completed its second video using sign language for the deaf, and in future all videos will be made that way.

Building partnership so that all can lend a hand

Partnership does not imply identity of interests or perspectives, nor does it require either partner to subordinate its view to that of the other. It is based on the fact that shared interests provide a basis for joint action.

The International Marketing Campaign is now well into its work of mobilising South Africans in a common effort to present our country to the world as an important destination for trade and investment. This public-private partnership and those it is working with, including the Proudly South African Campaign and Tourism South Africa, will be making a major impact in the coming period. It will provide a channel for the pride that South Africans feel for their country and its achievements, and in countering negative sentiments that have unduly shaped international perceptions.

Strong partnerships in the work of communications have involved our parastatals as well as non-governmental and private sector organisations.

The MPCC programme has seven parastatals on the national steering committee including a number who, apart from ensuring that the provision of utilities and services are in place, have made material contributions to MPCC launches and in some cases their functioning.

Multi-media mass communication campaigns have benefited from parastatal sponsorship of advertisements carrying the State of the Nation Address and the Mid-Term Report and by the provision of toll-free connections for radio phone-in programmes.

As yesterday’s Second Reading of the MDDA Bill made clear, the ultimate success of that initiative is premised on a partnership of government and media, including a joint commitment for public and private sector funding. The objective is to overcome the barriers to participation in the media that our history has placed before the majority of South Africans. The development of the community and small commercial media sectors will, we believe, lead to greater diversity in our country’s media, more adequately reflecting the diversity of our society.

The process towards the transformation of the advertising and marketing industry, initiated by the Portfolio Committee on Communications, is likewise benefiting strongly from a partnership of government – GCIS and the Department of Communications – with the industry itself. It is now under way in earnest and will be reporting to the Portfolio Committee in October.

The SANEF/Cabinet Indaba held at Sun City last year and the directions emerging from it constitute a rare partnership between two institutions which across the world tend to regard one another with some suspicion or antagonism. Without either side subordinating autonomy or the right and readiness to criticise one another, we have resolved to work together to ensure that the South African public is better informed about what government is doing.

Many debates will continue and no doubt each institution will pull no punches in saying what it believes must be said. But underlying the co-operation is the shared conviction that the people of a country who are struggling to extricate themselves from the morass of poverty resulting from past neglect and discrimination deserve no less from their government and media, than to work better together in the interests of the public and the nation.

All in all, then, government is on a communication path consistent with the imperative to join hands in pushing back the frontiers of poverty.

The positive response from civil society expresses the extent to which South Africans are defining their unity and their identity in a common effort to create a just and prosperous society.

GCIS has been privileged to contribute to the work of giving broader expression to that emerging identity. That includes in particular work with the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in the renewal of our National Orders, in the project to establish the Freedom Park and a monument to mark the inaugural Summit of the African Union.

Consolidating the communication system

If we are to make effective progress towards achieving our communication objectives, then it will be necessary to further improve the capacity of government to communicate in an integrated and focused way.

In part that will come from implementing the creative suggestions emerging from Sun City. A start has been made. For example more effective relations have been established between the media and the economic sector Ministries. Progress is also being made in the establishment of the Presidential Press Corps, one of those agreements that emerged from Sun City.

One of the dilemmas, as we approach the formal launch of the Presidential Press Corps, is to strike the right balance between rights and obligations. We are confident that the continuing discussions between government and the Interim Press Corps Committee will find solutions that define in a workable way the point around which that balance must be struck.

As programmes for the co-ordination and training of government communicators continue, and as they begin to make an impact, attention is being increasingly given to the challenge of greater integration in the work of government’s communication system. As the business of government in both planning and implementation becomes more integrated, so must communication. Indeed without this there would be little justification for claiming to have a government communication system.

As we continue to consolidate the communication system, the emphasis is falling increasingly on bringing communication into the business of government.

This includes greater integration of the work of communication clusters with the Clusters of Directors-General, and discussion by Cabinet of cluster communication strategies, in the context of the government-wide strategic communication framework. As Minister in the Presidency, with responsibility for GCIS, I have been given the task by Cabinet to provide its meetings with reports and proposals on Current Affairs so that it can reflect on issues of the day, in addition to its normal business.

These developments are helping government communicate in a more integrated way.

As far as GCIS is concerned, growing demands and the gradual consolidation of government’s communication system has led to a drive for greater effectiveness and some restructuring. During 2001/02 this was done within the allocated budget, revised only to deal with historical anomalies. Overspending during the previous year, for reasons which SCOPA did accept, has been replaced by an under spending of R1,48m or 1,2%, well within the requirements of the PFMA. Of that amount, R1,42m was committed during the financial year and in that context National Treasury has been requested to roll it over, implying effective under spending of only R0,06m or 0,05%.

The increased allocation to GCIS under the MTEF, rising from R124m in the last financial year 2001/2002 over three years to R162m by 2004/5, will provide resources for expanded and more effective efforts to ensure that the people of South Africa can be informed and active agents in improving their lives and governing their country.

Madame Speaker,

For the contribution that is being made towards the achievement of these goals, I wish to thank the CEO of GCIS, Joel Netshitenzhe, as well as the GCIS Secretariat and staff.

GCIS has drawn much encouragement and guidance from its interaction with the Portfolio Committee on Communications, for which I would like to thank the Committee and its Chairperson.

And I would like to thank all government communicators for their commitment and professionalism.

On their shoulders rests government’s capacity to speak with and to listen to the people of South Africa.

I commend this Budget to the House, thank you.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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