South Africa

PARLIAMENT

Ramaphosa fleshes out his plan for more efficient government — then takes a pounding from the opposition

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Mlandeli Puzi / GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday outlined how his government would work — co-ordinated, targeted development at the district level with community participation. His speech opening the almost six-hour presidency Budget vote debate was what should have been delivered in June’s State of the Nation Address. But Ramaphosa was let down by his side.

With a nod to Madiba on the eve of the international Nelson Mandela Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was “humbled by the knowledge that we all stand on his gigantic shoulders as we take forward the work he started of building a South Africa that is democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous”.

That call to co-operation unravelled fast in the House once opposition parties got to the podium. DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s pointed call for Ramaphosa to pay for his own lawyers in the court action over the Public Protector’s remedial actions paled against the sustained barrage by EFF leader Julius Malema against “Honourable Jamnadas”, a not-quite parliamentary reference to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan by his middle name.

You (the ANC) are still traumatised by the influence of the cabal. That is why Honourable Jamnadas is untouchable… We are not scared of him. We are going to go head-on, toe to toe,” said Malema, adding later:

We are not going to be held to ransom… Like (former president Jacob) Zuma you’ll begin to hate this Parliament simply because you want to protect one member against the Public Protector”.

Malema used his nine or so minutes at the podium not only to again set sights on Gordhan, but also to transverse other recent EFF targets such as investment envoy Trevor Manuel, who was slated as WMC (white monopoly capital), and former ABSA CEO Maria Ramos who, again and quite incorrectly, was accused of manipulating the rand when the bank had actually self-reported to set the record straight.

Parliamentary privilege means MPs are protected in what they may say in the House, but this is tempered by parliamentary tradition, practice and rules such as Rule 85(2), or the need for substantive motions when an MP wants to raise “any improper or unethical conduct on the part of another member of the House”.

Rulings are made there and then by the presiding officer, but this does require MPs to actually object and rise on point of order. A substantive motion must be fully prepared with evidence of the allegations.

But the ANC benches just sat there, inactive, as Malema dished his heady mix of conspiracy, distortion and aspersion. Not a single MP of the governing ANC rose on points of order, including Rule 85(2) or even Rule 84 that bans “offensive, abusive insulting, disrespectful, unbecoming or unparliamentary works, or language…” It was a far cry from when the ANC benches shot up at the slightest irritation to defend former president Jacob Zuma, even if just to insist he must be referred to as “Honourable, his excellency…”

The eventual intervention from International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor came after Malema had left the podium — effectively too late for him to be held to account. And her request was simply for Speaker Thandi Modise to consult the Hansard about the “various aspersions (that) have been cast” and to make a ruling.

Too little, too late.

In an attempt at political damage limitation, Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, took a different route. He cited three reasons the EFF set its sights Gordhan — several EFF MPs face parliamentary scrutiny for disrupting Gordan’s budget vote speech and walked out of his SONA contribution — including standing up for the illicit tobacco traders now under scrutiny by the tax authority.

You are racist,” Mthembu said looking at the EFF benches. “In his attempt to clean out the corruption at state-owned entities, he (Gordhan) stepped on some corrupt toes of EFF cronies.” And then the minister turned to his president: “Do not be deterred by these howlers”.

Earlier, Ramaphosa had outlined in some detail how his government would start doing business differently, with a focus on South Africa’s 52 districts in what is now called the “new integrated district-based system”.

We are going to move away from the distant state and return to participatory democracy at all levels,” said Ramaphosa. “This means targeted development — development that localises procurement and job creation, that promotes and supports local businesses, and that involves communities instead of foisting it on them.”

The first steps towards this have included re-establishing a policy unit within the presidency, last seen in the Thabo Mbeki administration, and a greater role and focus of the Presidential Co-ordinating Council that brings together all three spheres of government.

This fits in with having the presidency as “the centre of co-ordination, oversight and supervision across all spheres” as Ramaphosa described it on Wednesday. Or as the ANC December 2017 Nasrec national conference put it:

The presidency is the strategic centre of governance. The strategic centre must be the central driver of the developmental state and the following core resource-based administrative functions must form part of the centre of government to support the strategic centre: State macro-policy and planning; budget and resource allocation and prioritisation; co-operative governance; public services; and performance management.”

Critics would call this a “super-presidency”, and raise concerns over the concentration of executive power in the president, with a say in just about every aspect of government.

But on Wednesday, Ramaphosa put on a spin of better service delivery in service of community needs through co-ordinated government action.

We will be increasing focus into more cross-cutting matters like local economic development so that various spheres and departments of state can account for how they are jointly creating jobs and addressing service delivery for our people at local level.”

In the president’s analysis, “at the heart of most service delivery protests is fragmented planning on our part as well as poor communication”.

Fix that, and take a significant step towards fixing the underlying causes of South Africa’s stubbornly high unemployment — 38% on the broad definition that includes those too disheartened to even try to look for work, and that disproportionately affecting youth — and persistent slow economic growth.

Fix fragmented planning through the policy unit, which would drive evidence-based policy development and implementation. And fix fragmented government action, or the silo approach, with a greater role for the Presidential Co-ordinating Council.

It (PCC) enables the president to interface with the leadership of provincial and local government, and it is here that we are able to get a clear picture on issues of implementation, but also of the state of municipal finances and expenditure.”

And that would also help fix the dismal state of local government. Just 18 out of the South Africa’s 257 municipalities received a clean bill of financial health in the auditor-general’s local government audit outcomes for the 2017/18 financial year ending 31 March 2018.

If we are to deliver on our electoral mandate, we have to take development to the people: To where they study, where they work, and where they live. If we are to create economic opportunity and bring development to the people, we have to tailor our efforts to the conditions and circumstances of Mbombela, of Mafikeng, of uMthatha and Atlantis.”

Co-incidentally, after the tweak of merging a handful of ministries after the May 2019 elections, what’s now described as the “National Macro Organisation of Government (NMOG) project” is on-going. It started shortly after Ramaphosa took over as president in February 2018.

Ramaphosa pledged his administration would speak with one voice and work for South Africans, not “bling and blue lights”. And he called on each MP and political parties to collaborate in the spirit of Madiba.

We are here to work for our people. The endless focus on petty squabbles, on intra-party politics and on political brinkmanship does not serve our people well.”

Ramaphosa didn’t get that wish. But on Thursday it’s his turn to respond — and how he does that will be an important indicator of his presidency. DM

This article was amended at 2pm on 18 July 2019.

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