After weeks of deflecting responsibility and declaring that she would “not consider resigning” over the non-delivery of textbooks to schoolchildren in Limpopo, basic education minister Angie Motshekga yesterday “apologised unequivocally” to President Jacob Zuma for the delays.
Zuma yesterday met Motshekga and her deputy Enver Surty to discuss the textbook crisis. The presidency said in a statement last night that the situation arose because there was no budget allocation in Limpopo for the procurement and delivery of textbooks for the 2012 school calendar year.
Five Limpopo departments, including education, were taken over by national government last year in terms of a Section 100 (1) (b) of the Constitution. The blame game has now stepped into high gear, with cash flow problems, poor financial and human resource management and the absence of legislation regulating national interventions all being stacked up as reasons for the mess.
“Minister Motshekga explained to the president that it was only in May that orders for textbooks could be placed with the publishers. Around 28 April 2012, incorrect orders were placed with publishers, which process was later rectified by the intervention of the national department. This was preceded by the nullification of the contract with a service provider contracted by the Limpopo department of education to procure and deliver textbooks to Limpopo schools,” the presidency statement read.
“President Zuma emphasised to the minister that it was unacceptable for service providers or officials to destroy limited and precious education resources like books. The president appreciated the fact that the minister has instructed the department to take action against the perpetrators.”
A task team is to be established to investigate the circumstances around the textbook debacle. “The president directed that there should be consequences for anyone found responsible for any wrongdoing that led to the delays,” said the statement.
Had rights organisation Section 27 not taken government to court, there probably would not have been any urgency in dealing with the matter. But judging by the presidency statement, there appears to be no appreciation of the fact that the government education system has no capacity to identify such catastrophic problems and to take emergency measures to counter them.
This points to one problem: leadership incompetence.
The remedial action after such a disaster is to draft new legislation to regulate national interventions, the development of a protocol to manage relations between the different spheres of government and a task team to investigate the matter. Nobody is being held politically accountable for the crisis and there is no punitive action to serve as a deterrent for other public servants failing the people, particularly the children, of South Africa.
Yet last week, the ANC gave South Africa the impression that it was ready to act against corruption and incompetence in it ranks.
Reporting on discussions at the ANC policy conference last week, Gauteng provincial secretary David Makhura told the media that the commission on organisational renewal had decided that members under investigation should immediately step aside from public positions and no longer be able to use the “innocent until proven guilty” excuse.
The ANC would ask leaders with clouds over their heads to surrender their positions and not wait for the outcome of long court and government processes to act. Even ANC members find it difficult that the ANC would act according to this resolution, with some delegates at the conference remarking that it would probably be used selectively by the leadership as a political tool to get rid of detractors.
Makhura said the party also wanted to raise the level of competence and skills of its members, and instil in them integrity and the “right attitude and ethical orientation”. The ANC also wants to set up a “monitoring and evaluation” system to assess the performance of its members serving in public positions.
When asked when these resolutions would take effect, Makhura said once they were adopted at the ANC national conference in Mangaung in December, they would be “immediately implementable”.
“But there is no need to wait for the national conference to undo damage in the ANC… We need to improve the ANC’s ability to respond rapidly to things eroding its image,” Makhura said, saying party structures could start “cleansing” the ANC’s image straightaway.
Pity then that Makhura is not taking his own advice. Faced with a raft of allegations against Gauteng housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, the ANC in Gauteng said the accusations were still under investigation and dismissed reports that Mmemezi would be fired.
On Tuesday The Star reported that Mmemezi signed off on a R3,600 car allowance for his daughter and five other employees of the Mogale City municipality, even though he was warned that this was against council travel policy.
Mmemezi has also been implicated in the abuse of state funds and for damaging a government vehicle. It is claimed he used government funds to buy a painting – worth R10,000 – from a McDonald’s in Pretoria.
ANC Gauteng spokesman Dumisa Ntuli told The Star that the party’s integrity committee was investigating all allegations on the use of Mmemezi’s official credit card and vehicle.
In an interview with Radio 702 on Tuesday morning, Mmemezi was adamant he would not be fired, denied all the allegations and claimed there was a smear campaign against him aided by the media. Oddly, he does not deny using his government credit card for personal expenses but claims he paid back the money.
As was witnessed with former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, Mmemezi appears to see nothing wrong with the heady mix of abuse of state funds and nepotism, and justifies his actions by blaming invisible conspirators.
Though the ANC articulated all the right sentiments in its discussions on organisational renewal last week, it has become too used to protecting its own in the face of serious allegations of corruption and maladministration. Only when government’s hand is forced through civil society, the courts or offices like the public protector does it act against errant officials.
Apart from the cannon fire directed at expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, the ANC is loath to take harsh action against its leaders who are shamed through incompetence and malfeasance.
Speaking at the Cosatu provincial congress in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi urged his members to keep up the pressure on public representatives who face charges of serious offences “to voluntarily step down from office until their case has come to court and, if they refuse, to be suspended”.
“What we can’t afford is more promises of tough action that does not materialise, or a promise that some period after Mangaung ‘people will see a sea change’. We want that demonstration now! That is why we are saying those who are facing allegation must be held to account now, not later. The damaging effect of all of these allegations to our movement demands that we clarify if these allegations are true or not,” Vavi said.
He said investigations which should be speedily finalised include the public protector probe into deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe’s partner, Gugu Mtshali, in relation to a sanctions-busting deal to sell helicopters to Iran, allegations that crime intelligence paid for the upgrading of police minister Nathi Mthethwa’s private residence, and reports that a person romantically linked to communications minister Dina Pule irregularly won a contract for event management at the ICT Indaba.
“What is disappointing is that the ANC and the government never, ever say a word about these allegations and hope that ‘our people’ will forget about them in no time. This is a mistake!” Vavi said.
There are myriad ways the ANC and government can prove Vavi wrong. One of them would be to put the new-found toughness towards the non-performing or criminal elements to work. Chances are, they won’t. DM
Photo: After delegates reportedly clashed at the ANC’s national policy conference over the issue of nationalisation, President Zuma’s supporters finished the week by singing in support of his second term. (Greg Nicolson)
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