SPEECHES: The keynote address by L N Sisulu, MP, Minister for Public Service and Administration, at the Govtech 2012 26 September 2012, Durban

Date: 26 Sep 2012

The Programme Director

The Premier of Kwazulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize

The executive Mayor of EThekwini, Councillor James Nxumalo

Members of Executive Councils

Members of the Board of Sita

Captains of the ICT industry

International Dignitaries

Senior officials of government

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here today on this, the seventh GovTech event, happens at an important time for our endeavours, as the South African Government is awarded its second e-government award by the United Nations. Competing against 471 nominations from 80 United Nations Members States, our award is an extremely significant milestone for ourselves as government, for the political leadership given and for the government wide institutional arrangement through Sita. It is a significant recognition of the product that you, the industry, provide us. It is a proud moment for our partnership and it shows the bounds of possibility are infinite, if we get it right.

It is trite to say that ICT has become so central to our lives as individuals, to the State and to any other players that we have had to embrace it in order to embrace our future. Over the last 20 to 25 years, the technology insertion into the processes of production information have changed how we live and how government runs its affairs.

This has forced us to think how we harness this reality to improve our work. As a government we have long recognised that we cannot do this on our own and today we all understand that this is a mutual recognition.

We are an enterprising government, with a burning desire to turn back the clock of so many years of underdevelopment. You could not find such an eager partner. You, the industry are at the right place at the right time. Indeed, all you need to do is stay right there as the doors of the region and the continent open to you. We, for our part, have years to roll back and we can only do it with willing partners. Partners who share our mission as a developmental state. Partners who understand the incredible odds we face - that, at this critical juncture of our government we have so much still to do to deliver to our people, with resources that are strained by the global financial environment we operate in, our own budgetary constraints with huge spending in social infrastructure, while trying to hold up a crumbling physical infrastructure.

These constraints are matters we battle with on a daily basis as we negotiate our way through a tough economic climate, as we negotiate our way on an affordable wage bill, as we negotiate our way with impatient communities in the dusty Kuruman, that have resorted to keep their children hostage from school so that government can provide them with essentials such as a road. A road is all they ask for after 18 years and desperation leads to desperate action. This is our reality.

I am making this point so that you, our partners understand what we are confronted with. I am making this point so that you understand that the pivotal word for us is "affordability". This partnership with yourselves is based on our reality, that only with yourselves would we harness the benefits of the ICT revolution. We therefore call on you to partner with us, within our reality as we negotiate the way forward and the implications for affordability. I make this point right from the outset, so that it foregrounds the kind of partnership we hope we speak about. We are looking for a win-win partnership.

The latest assessment of our performance as Government in this area by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation showed that ranked as the State's weakest interventions are the Public Service itself and the tools that we would use to enable it to function efficiently - our IT. Our intention is to address the weaknesses. The fact that both of these fall under my Ministry should not lead you to believe that I am a basket case, but rather that we stand here with the answer to half of the challenges of the state.

I have had the occasion to have extensive discussions with labour unions representing the Public sector. We clinched a historic agreement where among other things, the unions pledged themselves ready to partner with us to turn the Public Service around. Where they will help find the solutions with us around efficiency, professionalism and delivery of services.

I am therefore here today, with some hope that you cannot be outdone by Labour. I am certain that you too can rise to the occasion. Understanding, our situation, workers agreed that they would forfeit some of their rights and some of their gains to help us within this financial climate. Workers are not known to be generous with their rights towards their employers. Imagine then my excitement that these things are possible. My challenge to you is - how can you help us within our constraints? I am certain I can count on you to cement another relationship that I hope will solve one of the State's weaknesses.

We have had a problem with our IT, based primarily on its affordability. We have had successes in many spheres of government at the IEC, at Home Affairs, in the Police, Defence and Justice. But there is great scope though for greater improvement. I would like you to come with us as we tackle the challenges. Come and help fix what needs to be fixed. Help us negotiate the steep hurdles of affordability, be the affordable solution to our problems.

When we came into government in 1994, our biggest nightmare was the state of the Public Service. The then President Mandela established a Presidential Commission to help us understand the problems we had to confront. One of the most fundamental recommendations to come out of the Commission was the establishment of Sita. Its rationale - to reduce government spending by sharing resources across the departments. Cost reduction drove us in the direction we took. Cost reduction should not be too far in the recesses of our minds at all times, as we forge ahead.

Honourable guests, the theme of GovTech 2012 which is ICT Collaboration - Across and Beyond Government throws a challenge to all stakeholders to work together in harnessing ICTs to support government's national service delivery plan. GovTech 2012 envisages and promotes active broad participation. In other words, GovTech promotes the message that 'we are in this together".

We have come a long way since the launch of the first GovTech in 2006. GovTech is now a brand name in its own right. This year's conference comes on the heels of the publication of Government's first National Development Plan. Our goal within the Plan is the building of a capable developmental state. And what to we mean by that? This means a State that understands its role in development and is geared towards intervening, to ensure that its goals and mandate can be achieved. Our responsibility therefore is to equip ourselves, revive and restructure state capacity, ie its workforce and its tools to enable us to intervene decisively to reduce our biggest challenge - poverty.

We have the responsibility to professionalise our Public Service, upgrade and retain skills. Technology is our future. The professionalisation of our Public Service means equipping each Public Servant to use technology. This is the crux of the matter. Precisely because of the centrality of technology and its role in how we provide services.

Part of professionalising the Public Service is providing them with the skills that they need for their trade. The range of possibilities is endless and with it goes the broadening and deepening of your reach.

ICT-illiterate senior managers are obstacles to the optimum use of ICTs, whilst at the same time unmanaged whiz kids can lead us down a path of fruitless expenditure and lack of empowerment of the same civil servants. Such circumstances coupled with unmanaged service providers and consultants lead us to buy solutions for imaginary problems, whilst leaving out real problems which include responsive solutions that enhance and remove challenges of poverty.

The main challenge that faces us therefore is our ability to insert the technology into our everyday performance. Our national ratings as poor users of ICTs can change, depending on what we can achieve in the public schools, hospitals, one stop centres and in communities. Easy access e.g. by Small Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMME) and Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) and rural farmer communities are included for improved ICT use.

We need partnerships with companies that can offer students internships and can develop their unique outreach programmes with schools, tertiary institutions and community based organisations. I am convinced we cannot rest until there is universal access in public schools and a pool of ICT competent children, or else what we discuss here is superficial, to say the least. We must cover the basics and provide opportunities in the ICT value chain, lest we entrench inequalities in the next generations.

We need to push the frontiers and think out of the box. The way we work; the areas we prioritise, the areas on which we spend money and collaborate on can reflect a new way of thinking. The old model of ICT and e-government is that we work and we produce services that are designed and structured around the needs of the rich. The new way is that technology and services must be designed, adapted to fit the needs of the poor in South Africa. The new way is that we must conduct our business, to reflect a new social consciousness and commitment to nation building and development.

In the ICT environment we must begin to do things differently; as we continue to build on our successes and address our challenges. The new way of working must translate into ways we create a culture of entrepreneurship, provide better services, cut costs, cut costs, cut costs, cut costs, improve systems, and streamline operations and increase citizen satisfaction and living conditions.

The ICT Industry is a multi-billion rand industry and key to socio-economic development in the country. Improved and sustainable relationships must be established between the industry and government to ensure that the contribution from this sector is maximised, as collaboration is a prerequisite for success. Pooling our resources wisely, co-operation and working in partnership and realising our ultimate vision of a modernised government and citizen satisfaction is vital.

The role of ICT as a tool for socio-economic development has been on the world stage for a while now. However, we have been concerned by South Africa's drop in ICT ranking, as this raises serious doubts around not only our competitiveness in a global economy, but also on our ability to improve lives of our citizens through accessible and convenient ICT enabled services and to put the country firmly on the road of sustainable ICT growth.

ICT's have become critical to strengthening the economy, enriching citizens' lives in the health and education sectors; providing citizen-centred services and improving the country's global competitiveness. While we understand that ICT's are complex and diverse, their potential must be fully utilised and mainstreamed as tools to build, empower and benefit the country. Here I dream of a time when there will not be any issue around the delivery of text books. I am glad that today we will be visiting one of the local schools, because if we prioritise the teachers and schools, we will be building on our future.

I did digress. South Africa is lagging behind amongst its peers both within the continent and the globe. And yet amongst the developing regions, Africa had the highest mobile growth rate. That which has been called the 'mobile miracle' is putting ICT services within reach of even the most disadvantaged people and communities.

The unfortunate reality is that as a country we seem not to have taken full advantage of this massive mobile technology penetration to increase our capacity to deliver vital information to our citizens in the most disadvantaged communities. Apart from a handful of mobile-based initiatives, not enough has been done to exploit the mobile technology.

In present day information society, there has been change, and the impact of using ICTs in a variety of public services has been felt. These include the implementation of telemedicine in Limpopo and KZN, track and tracing of learners through their school careers, poverty index for the City of Johannesburg, sms responses to key services from the Department of Home Affairs, the IEC result scanning and many more.

The current administration must leave a sustainable and meaningful legacy of transformation and development. After 18 years of democracy, persisting poverty, underdevelopment and quality of service, marginalisation of people and communities as well as the growing needs of the nation, must be addressed.

And this brings me to the point on using E-government strategically. E-Government is an essential component to improve service delivery for all, build an inclusive information society and to integrate government information systems that provide optimised service delivery to government information and services.

E-Government for the poor is a leading challenge. E-Government must bring people and services together more effectively; and through the collaboration that we are advocating, we need to look at the models that we are using to design E-government implementation. It must complement to the fundamental duties of government which are to develop and implement policy, provide service access and delivery and manage compliance.

The barriers that currently limit the development of rural and underdeveloped areas include Distance barriers: access to administrative and governmental structures, Economic barriers: access to wider business and labour markets, Social barriers: to information, education facilities, health and social services, Information barriers: many rural areas and their amenities are undiscovered, unknown to the outside world.

From the citizen's perspective, services that are delivered to them must be of a high quality and delivered at their convenience. This calls for a dynamic, modern delivery model which contributes to the nation building agenda; by meeting citizen needs qualitatively.

The one single public service initiative is critical. The lack of co-operation and integration between public service departments often mean that the delivery of service does not meet the expectations of citizens and do not meet nationally defined norms and standards. Co-operation and integration will help to better target the kinds and quality of services required in different geographic and socio-economic areas as we make strategic use of scarce resources for maximum benefits.

At present, the ICT landscape of government is encumbered by poor documentation, lack of single repository of citizen data, and no coherent view of national departments or provincial government. Individual national departments have not documented their environments efficiently. Provincial governments don't have a coherent profile of their environment and neither is the environment documented. ICT maturity is uneven. Some departments and provinces are more sophisticated than others. In terms of capability and maturity, the majority of departments could be rated as basic - IT infrastructure provisioning is incoherent, uncoordinated and manual - with little or no automation in the environment.

Finally our experience in our democracy has been varied and colorful at times. That notwithstanding, it is without a doubt a story of success. At the same time it is journey of resilience, development and growth. But is also a story of unequal development and growing poverty. It is a story that we can be proud of, given our contribution to developments in the country.

I would like to urge all delegates to fully optimise the opportunity at this conference to be audacious, innovative, bold and visionary in your contributions to the debates.

Our envisaged outcomes for GovTech 2012 include furthering Government's ICT agenda through collaboration and information-sharing; contributing to the development of the ICT profession and growth of the industry in South Africa and promoting the potential of ICT as a transformation agent and enabler of service delivery.

It is our task, to meet head on the real challenge of bridging the gap that exists in our highly polarised society. Allow me to conclude with the quotation: " The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.'

I wish you well in your deliberations as the Conference progresses and I hope the outcomes will help us improve productivity in the public service.

I thank you.

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