The ANC’s policy conference finished last week but we were still being briefed on its outcomes on Monday. The ANC wants the Presidency to take a more central role in the drafting of the country’s Budget, to finally look at consolidating provinces, provide free higher education for the poor by 2018, and hopes to use the medical aid tax rebate to fund the NHI. By GREG NICOLSON.
Towards the end of the Luthuli House briefing on Monday, Obed Bapela, Naledi Pandor and Andries Nel each rose to clarify one issue. Bapela, briefing media on the legislature and governance commission at the ANC’s national policy conference, held in Johannesburg last week, had said the Presidency should be the central driver of the developmental state and the budget should be located within President Jacob Zuma’s office.
Control of the Treasury and its budget is at the heart of ANC state capture and factional battles. It has led to multiple Cabinet reshuffles, seen as attempts by Zuma to take tighter control of the country’s purse strings. Was Zuma trying to usurp Treasury’s power and give the president ultimate authority for passing the country’s annual Budget?
Bapela, deputy minister in the presidency for performance monitoring and evaluation, said Treasury would remain independent but would have to align the Budget with the country’s plans, outlined in the State of the Nation Address and the National Development Plan. Adding confusion over the proposal from the policy conference, he said if Treasury did not prioritise those goals, the presidency would become the prioritising centre.
Science and Technology Minister Pandor was surprised by Bapela’s announcement. She said two commissions had looked at giving the Presidency a stronger hand in determining priority policy matters. “But the Treasury is the core institution in determining the Budget and the Budget is adopted by Cabinet and that will remain because that’s what exists in any democracy and any suggestion that there’ll be a different approach is not what’s intended.” Pandor said while the issue will be debated at the ANC’s December elective conference, the Presidency does not have the capacity to lead the drafting of the Budget, nor is it desirable for the office to assume the role.
Deputy Minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nel said the party wanted the Presidency to be the strategic centre of the developmental state, overseeing five overarching functions of government, including the Budget. “It doesn’t mean that all of those functions would be collapsed into the Presidency and indeed the idea would be very much that those departments would remain that they’re together and working with the Presidency constitute the centre of government.”
The process has already started, Nel said. Before this year’s Budget was released, the department of monitoring and evaluation, based in the Presidency, drafted a mandate paper to inform Treasury of key priorities. That’s what was envisioned by the ANC’s commission on legislature and governance, he suggested.
The ANC’s policy conference last week did not find the time to brief the media on all of the commission resolutions and on Monday provided updates on those that were outstanding.
The legislature and governance commission also came up with a number of other interesting initiatives. At the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung conference the party called for a presidential commission of inquiry to investigate the role of provinces and whether the number of provinces or their boundaries should change. The 2015 National General Council said the inquiry should be fast-tracked. Bapela on Monday said the commission of inquiry should be appointed and finish its work before the December conference so the party can make an informed decision on whether provinces should be consolidated.
Within the ANC, there have long been calls for the country to have six rather than nine provinces. The Democratic Alliance has called it an ANC attempt to maximise the party’s chances of keeping control of provinces like Gauteng in 2019, after consolidating provinces to amalgamate pro-ANC areas into those where the party is losing support. Bapela denied the ANC was using the issue to win elections and said the debate was about how best to use state resources. The President has for years resisted appointing a commission of inquiry and it’s unlikely it could be appointed or complete its work before the December conference.
After losing Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros to DA-led coalitions last year, Bapela said the ANC commission agreed it was not guaranteed to stay in power and must look to establishing coalitions. He said the party would first look at entering into agreements with parties that have similar values. Specific parties the ANC could partner with weren’t discussed at the policy conference, he said, as there might be a reconfiguration of contesting parties ahead of the 2019 elections. Bapela said the commission extensively discussed the ANC’s tactics as an opposition party.
Reporting back from two policy conference commissions – health and education, and science, technology and innovation – Pandor said poor and “middle strata” students should have access to “fully subsidised free higher education and training by 2018, subject to availability of funds”. Providing free higher education to poor and middle-class students by 2018 is extremely ambitious and Pandor said the ANC didn’t settle on a funding model or definitions for the poor or the “missing middle”.
Essentially, the party is waiting for the report from the commission of inquiry into the feasibility of fee-free higher education, led by Justice Jonathan Heher, expected to be released soon. Pandor said the party also wants poor and working class students to receive fully subsidised costs of study, including provisions for costs of accommodation, meals, transport, study materials and essential living needs to improve access to education and success rates.
On basic education, there were a number of proposals to review the education and training systems to improve teaching and learning outcomes. The department of basic education, working with the higher education and finance departments, should review whether the education system is responding to transformation imperatives and workplace demands, the relevant commission said. Accountability mechanisms for principals, deputies and subject heads should be increased.
Responsibility for early childhood development should move from the department of social development to the department of basic education, the commission suggested.
Many of the recommendations on health related to the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme. Pandor said it must be a government priority and the NHI legislative framework should be finalised by the end of the current government’s term. The NHI’s pilot phase has been completed and government is now looking at how to expand the system.
The health and education commission recommended the medical aid tax rebate should essentially be revoked and be used to fund the NHI. According to Pandor, R22-billion in rebates are paid each year. The idea was introduced in the recently-released NHI white paper. It would cost taxpayers with medical aid, but Pandor said it would help divert resources to those who are most in need of state services.
“It should be noted that these recommendations will be submitted to branches and all structures of the ANC for further discussions from now on up to just before the 54th ANC national conference,” said Pandor’s statement. Proposals coming out of the policy conference will be adopted, rejected or modified during the ANC’s December conference, but they are a strong indication of the ANC’s policy direction, with the December event likely to be dominated by the leadership race. DM
Photo: Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize at the ANC Policy Conference (Ihsaan Haffejee)