SPEECHES: Address by LN Sisulu, MP, Minister for the Public Service and Administration, during the debate on the President's State of the Nation Address

Date: 21 Feb 2013

Mr Speaker

I am very glad to have this opportunity to attend to a number of matters that I feel need to be put straight. To begin with, I am very offended by the sexist and downright insulting language that was used here by Honourable Lekota. To quote him "they employ all these people, concubines …" referring to people who serve this State. I know of no concubines in the Public Service. I feel it was unethical and conduct unbecoming of anyone to speak so demeaningly of people who cannot defend themselves in this House.

It is generally accepted that the output of the Public Service is less than desirable. We are all very concerned about it and our responsibility is to do something about it. But Honourable Lekota has absolutely no right to insult them. The truth is that they most probably do more in a day's work than he and his party do. They are regularly measured and accounted for. I'm not sure if Honourable Lekota and his party are accountable to anybody. I wished Mr Speaker, he had been asked to retract his statement and apologise. But then again, he is a leader of a party and his party deserves such vulgarity. In stark contrast, my President would never speak of people in that way. My President is respectful, humble, dignified. That is why Honourable Lekota, his popularity continues to rise, while yours is condemned to lie in the doldrums. That is why, Honourable Lekota, we will decimate you in the coming elections. Honourable Manamela gave you too much credit yesterday when he referred to you as Cassius. I see you as a dead man walking.

Secondly, the self same leader of COPE rants as he always does, this time it is at the wage bill, because for the first time he has come alive to the fact that there is something called the wage bill. He quotes the Minister of Finance who indicates that the wage bill is 34% of government expenditure. Perhaps at this point, for his own edification I need to indicate that in the shortest of time we brought this wage bill down from 37% to the current 34% that he indicated and we are committed to further reduce it in the next 6 months. We have brought it down through a number of cost saving exercises in the Public Service in particular. However, the point I wanted to make is an important one and to do that I need to unpack that 34% that the Honourable Lekota has woken up to. The wage bill, honourable member is not the money paid to public servants. It is the totality of the money that government spends on salaries of all the people who are paid through the public purse. Public Office bearers, the Judiciary, Chapter 9 institutions and the Public Service at National, Provincial and local government level. Your salary is part of this 34%, Honourable Lekota, yours and the rest of the COPE Members of Parliament behind you who earn a salary and are not accountable to anyone - maybe those are the concubines you were referring to? No! It was just a tempting fleeting thought.

I want to turn briefly to address my dearest father here - Shenge. Yesterday when you spoke, with more than a tinge of irritation you rebuked the young lady sitting next to Minister Nzimande and said "ithini lengane", we cringed, she cringed and she did not once thereafter utter a word. You knew exactly what authority you were exerting, we all did. But I wondered Shenge, what do you say when lengane yeDA speaks the way she does about our President, your President. Why do you not find it in you to say thesame as you did kule eyethu ingane? Something is not adding up here in this set up. You taught us to disagree without being disagreeable. This situation is made worse by the fact that you are seen trailing behind her to press conferences. Why would you do that? You have a proud tradition to uphold. I respect you too much to want to see that spectacle again, please.

Now, to get back to the point at issue. It is necessary for us to clarify what the State of the Nation address is and what it is meant to be. As head of the state, the President presents a report on what Government has done to fulfill the commitments made the previous year. The President also uses his State of the Nation address to reflect on challenges and give new directives to Ministers and the country. Most importantly he uses the occasion to rally the nation in becoming part of the solution to some of the national and societal challenges we face.

Evidently, given the noise that has attended this debate, this very basic understanding is lost to most in the Opposition. Indeed, stripped of all the hype, sanctimonious posture, and dramatics, the contribution of the opposition amounts to nothing. Except for my father Shenge, the UDM and APC, none provided a vision. This in itself is not surprising since they are robotically programmed. It has become part of their DNA. These are the effects of a psychological and sociological trauma that arises out of being irrelevant.

In his State of the Nation Address, the President made an unequivocal assertion that we now have the National Development Plan for the next seventeen years. Here is where we all start - this is where we need to concentrate. For the first time we have a common plan - adopted by all of us - a plan whose origin was conceptualised by this President and yet it suits those of us who are permanently lodged on the periphery of the State to claim that the President has done nothing. The goals of the National Development Plan depend on functional State machinery. This is what has occupied us over the last seven months. The legitimate concerns raised by members here are all our concerns.

In short the following remain serious concerns, ie the quality of the Public Service, corruption in the Public Service and the over reliance on consultants to do what the State is supposed to do. These go to the core of what the NDP says about creating the capacity of the State to ensure that state machinery functions efficiently and effectively and we can deliver to the citizens of this country, the services that we promised.

Honourable Speaker, the stability and effectiveness of the public sector is greatly dependent on the commitment and devotion of its staff. The current view to render teaching as an essential service must be welcomed. Also to be welcomed is the stance that we will establish a Presidential Remuneration Commission. The Remuneration Commission will determine whether we are getting value for money and whether the Public Servants are remunerated in line with their output. The President has prioritised teachers for the reason that we have become aware of an ongoing grievance. He has chosen to prioritise teachers because teaching is an essential service for the country. It does not matter how smart you might need to be about language usage, the bottom line is that teaching is an essential service. Education is the main driver of development in the knowledge economy. There is no country that has leap-frogged into the future without an investment in education, and teachers play a critical role in this.

We cannot move forward without paying attention to the working conditions of teachers. We want to make teaching as attractive a profession as it has always been. We all know that, the teachers themselves know that and together with the Minister of Basic Education we intend to ensure that they can live up to that. We will cut down in unacceptable absenteeism in this sector. As the President has indicated, we will ensure the teachers are teaching in class, properly dressed and motivated.

The Remuneration Commission is the President's answer to a longstanding salary structure problem. More than that, he has shown good faith and has taken the first step in the recognition of the role of teachers in our development. Now it is my and the Minister of Basic Education's responsibility to ensure that teachers do what they are employed to do. We have done what we can do create an environment that is conducive to them, we now demand of them to do what is necessary to get education back to the credible institution it should be.

Honourable Speaker, we have reviewed the current capacity of the State to deal with corruption in the public service. Our assessment is that the current capacity is unable to deal effectively with the scope and scale of the challenge we face. That is why we are planning to create an Anti Corruption Bureau, a body that, together with the SIU and other law enforcement agencies will have the necessary powers and authority to deal with major cases of misconduct, especially by SMS members and financial misconduct in the public sector. The Bureau will have powers and authority to investigate across the whole of government and will be responsible for investigating, documenting and maintaining databases and ensuring that disciplinary cases are finalised expeditiously. We are also working to ensure that major disciplinary cases are dealt with centrally within the DPSA.

We remain very dismayed at the number of Public Servants doing business with the State. The NDP and the Public Service Commission have recommended that we prohibit Public Servants from doing business with the State. We have accepted this recommendation and we are working on legislation to effect this and henceforth no public servant would be allowed to do business with the State.

Honourable Speaker, we have taken note of the contents of the recent Report of the Auditor-General on the Use of Consultants issued on 24 January 2013 and are taking measures to address the use of consultants by the public service. We are working with the Department of Public Works to ensure that our recruitment system is revamped to create an internal capacity that will significantly reduce the over-reliance of our public administration on consultants to deliver public services and to create an efficient system that will ensure that in cases where the use of consultants is unavoidable, they will deliver value for the money paid to them. Consultants cannot be used as an alternative to employment of the core skills that the public administration requires to deliver services to the people. While agreeing that tendering and the use of consultants are normal government practices all over the world, the ANC is of the view that the process be changed drastically to remove any notion that this is a tender state.

Here yesterday we heard a great deal of scepticism about Government's commitment to deal with corruption. I want to give the following details as stated by the President.

"The capacity of the Special Investigating Unit has grown from an initial 70 staff members to more than 600 at present. I have since 2009, signed 34 proclamations directing the SIU to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud or maladministration in various government departments and state entities.

Criminal Investigations were initiated against 203 accused persons in 67 priority cases under investigation by the end September 2012. In total, pre-trial proceedings have been initiated against 191 persons. A total of 66 persons under investigation are alleged to have received R5 million or more benefits through corruption. Freezing Orders were obtained against 46 persons.

In other successes, in the past financial year, 107 officials working within the criminal justice system were convicted. The Asset Forfeiture Unit seized assets valued at more than R541 million. A total of R61 million of these assets have already been forfeited to the State. The assets are channeled back to fighting crime and corruption through the Criminal Asset Recovery Account. Last year, additional funding of R150 million from the Criminal Assets Recovery Account was approved for the work of the Anti-Corruption Task Team which comprises the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit and the National Prosecuting Authority. These resources are aimed at strengthening the capacity of these law enforcement agencies in our resolve to fight corruption".

We have established a School of Government where we can re-educate all our Public Servants to ensure that all these matters that all of us are concerned about, are attended to. Producing public servants of high quality requires a dedicated facility. The School of Government will provide in-service and professional development and training to improve competency in the public service. The programmes delivered by the School will be based on knowledge of the public administration systems, governance ethos and the expected culture of service delivery. Seasoned, ethical and principled facilitators and instructors that understand the public service will train in the School.

This is what the President promised, this is what we are doing - producing an efficient, capable public service to drive our developmental agenda.

Poor service delivery has indeed been very problematic, with the biggest obstacle being at the lowest level, the level that directly interacts with our citizens. We as the ruling party have taken the decision that we will have to ensure that we create a single administration, differentiated amongst others by the powers vested in national, provincial and local authorities. This streamlining of the norms and standards and values would ensure that there is a uniform delivery machine with uniform standards and uniform efficiency. Chapter 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa prescribes the nature and character of our public administration and calls for national legislation to promote the principles underpinning public administration. We are on course with this. Honourable Godi has been incisive on this and it needs to elaboration.

Honourable Speaker, administrative machinery that operates at full capacity is essential for the full functioning of a developmental state. Unfilled vacant posts in the public service undermine the achievement of this objective, hence the resolve to fill all vacant posts within four months of them becoming vacant. According to statistics prepared in December 2012, the public service has a vacancy rate of 8.48% which translates to 124 229 posts. A Ministerial directive has already been issued to instruct departments to fill vacant posts within four months. Count four months and we will tell you what the reduction rate has been. We are also cleaning the Persal system to ensure that we have reliable information on the state of filled posts in the public service.

Honourable Speaker, a capable and developmental state is not possible in an environment where every year you are faced with prolonged wage negotiations coupled with industrial action. We have made significant strides in government in that multi-term wage agreements are becoming the norm, giving the state and organised labour an opportunity to address service delivery challenges.

We have secured a three year strike free period with the Public Service and we are seeing the benefits now. The multi-year agreement creates an environment where both government and Labour can use their energies to build the state and deliver services to the people. Out of this has come an agreement to professionalise the public service imbued with a new culture. We will concentrate on building the kind of professional public service that we require - a public service served by a new cadre of government that will serve with commitment, a motivated Public Servant that knows that his or her remuneration will be determined by their productivity. A Public Servant that knows that we care about their conditions of service as much as we care that they will deliver quality service.

This is our commitment. Those of us given the responsibility to govern do not have the luxury of engaging in meaningless and vulgar spats. For as long as our people languish in conditions of poverty we will continue to give our all. It is a responsibility that we embrace enthusiastically.

I thank you.

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