DA Northern Cape debate on SOPA 2013

ANDREW LOUW, MPL

NORTHERN CAPE PROVINCIAL LEGISLATURE

DEBATE : STATE OF THE PROVINCE ADDRESS 2013

The State of the Province Address was a golden opportunity for the provincial government to show leadership. It should have been a turning point for a province that has lost faith in the provincial government. However, not only was this address vague and devoid of new ideas and vision but it was also the offering of a Premiership founded on compromise. A Premiership rattled by political infighting. And a Premiership bereft of leadership.

I speak on behalf of the people of the Northern Cape when I express disappointment at the fact that SOPA 2013 was merely read out by the stand-in premier. This left an insincere taste in the mouths of our people, who were desperately seeking true leadership, desperately seeking hope, desperately seeking revelations as to a better life and desperately seeking reassurances as to why they should remain here instead of migrating to more productive provinces or even overseas.

Perhaps a glimmer of optimism was the fact that a substantial amount of money has been allocated to the establishment of a university in the province. We are relieved that this initiative seems to be forging ahead. We do, however, wish to warn the Acting Premier against an overly ambitious deadline, which has the potential to affect the quality of this institution.

The DA also hopes that the ANC administrations proven inability to meticulously manage its budget, as was corroborated by the Acting premier’s submission that her administration has inherited debt and unauthorised expenditure worth millions of Rands from her ANC predecessors, doesn’t flow over into the into the administering of funds intended for the university.

Honourable Speaker, from the SOPA we expected provincial government to put forward a clear, detailed and implementable plan to tackle the key problems we face in the Northern Cape, including amongst others unemployment, violent crime and corruption.

But the people of the Northern Cape have been let down. Instead of being given solutions, we have been informed that 18 years after democracy, this provincial government is still stuck in the planning phase and that the province will host a Planning Indaba later this month to attend to the overall needs of the province.

Hon. Speaker, we are so very tired of this plotting and scheming administration. The time for plans has long passed. The time for action was yesterday. The time for results is now!

I recently met with business people in order to understand their frustrations around conducting business in the Northern Cape. Allow me to share the view of one businesswoman, who said:

“Business is at the stage where we feel that everything is a workshop. There are forums, meetings and so on but nothing ever happens. Business doesn’t want to sit around the table anymore. Business should be about business, not about politics…”

Hon. Speaker, this administration needs to catch a wake-up call. The Acting Premier mentioned the National Development Plan, which the DA fully supports. She also claimed that the creation and retention of decent work and sustainable livelihoods has become the primary focus of all the economic policies of our government. Yet, this is not so in practice.

Instead, this government continues to consider itself as a job-creation agency. They continue to boast about their successes in the Expanded Public Works programme, as if these temporary work opportunities, funded by government itself, will pull our people from the mires of poverty and create a booming economy. At the same time, provincial government shuns our private sector, and turns a deaf ear to their valid concerns, despite the fact that it is business, both big and small alike, that actually has the potential to turn our economy around.

Hon. Speaker, a local businessman said the following to me:

“No one can foresee the future but what is important for an entrepreneur or a businessman is to be able to make a prediction about the future. If you can’t understand what is going to happen in the future, you won’t be successful. If you can’t envisage a future, people won’t invest”.

Hon. Speaker, how true these words are. In order for business to flourish, they need adequate, sustained and stable support from government which can in turn translate into a favourable environment for conducting business.

After all…

* Do people really want to open guest houses in places where they can’t be assured of an uninterrupted water supply to their overnight guests?

* Do people really want to set up manufacturing plants in places where they aren’t sure whether they will be able to afford their overheads in a year’s time due to unwarranted electricity price hikes?

* Do people really want to start up businesses in places where they struggle to get the requisite business permits from municipalities, whose councillors don’t even know what the term CBD stands for?

* Do people really want to become business leaders in a centre where flights to and from the business capitals are the most expensive in the country?

* Do people really want to open courier companies in places where they have to wonder whether they will still have a vehicle, or even a driver the next day, because of the poor and dangerous state of the roads?

Hon. Speaker, our roads are the veins that ensure economic blood flow to the province. In this regard, the DA welcomes the investment of R2,2 billion on road infrastructure development, and the shift of focus from road construction to maintenance of roads. This in itself, however, is not enough. And it is absurd that the Acting Premier seems to think that investors will be forced to come to the Northern Cape simply because we have tremendous natural wealth, such as 80% of the world’s manganese resources. The reality is that if conditions are not right, investors will find alternate investment destinations.

In getting back to my point, I want to re-emphasise that when it comes to the unemployment crisis in the Northern Cape, job creation is key. And for the state to play a positive role in job creation, they must establish an enabling environment that attracts investors who start businesses that create jobs.

Provincial government has previously mentioned initiatives to reduce the red tape that inhibits people from doing business in the Northern Cape. The DA fully supports this initiative. In the Western Cape, 89,3% of the 921 administrative bottlenecks reported since 2011, have been successfully cleared. My question is whether the Northern Cape is making the same impact?

Aside from speeding up the reduction of red tape, I would like to propose additional initiatives that could ultimately rank the Northern Cape more highly when it comes to ease of doing business. These include:

* Ensuring cooperation between provincial government and municipalities in order to determine which regulations and by-laws are hindering economic development.

* Developing a ‘best practice” process map to streamline the approval of building plans in municipalities across the province.

* Reducing the backlog of planning applications in order to get the balance right between protecting our precious environment and encouraging development that creates jobs.

* Establishing a joint task team to introduce regulatory impact assessments so that regulations that are deterring investment and economic growth can eventually be removed or amended.

* Establishing a partnership network by bringing together relevant business support providers such as the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), the dismally performing Northern Cape Economic Development Agency (NCEDA) and community based business organisations, in order to offer a full range of support to new SMME’s.

* Establishing an enterprise development fund to provide start-up funding to rural and urban SMME’s.

* Investing even more in skills development programmes.

On this point, Hon. Speaker, I would also like to propose that the Northern Cape considers setting up its own version of the Youth Wage Subsidy, as has already been done in the Western Cape through the “Work and Skills Programme”. The programme successfully provides learning and work placement opportunities to unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 35 in a range of sectors. A total of 2 810 job opportunities have been provided so far with 69% of participants having been offered permanent jobs once they complete the programme.

Hon. Speaker, the Development Bank of South Africa has also granted the Western Cape R64 million from its Jobs Fund to build this programme. This programme is proof of what can be achieved when businesses are incentivised to employ young people.

Once again, why can’t the Northern Cape follow suit and do the same?

Well, unfortunately we already know the answer to this question. The bottom line is that our provincial government doesn’t want to upset COSATU, who has been allowed to water down the Youth Wage Subsidy policy.

In much the same way, it is now also COSATU who is blurring hopes of a positive future for hundreds of farm workers.

Hon. Speaker, the Acting Premier herself stated that agriculture remains one of the key drivers of our provincial economy and continues to employ a substantial number of our people. We must remember that it is also one of the few remaining sectors to absorb unskilled labour.

In spite of this, however, the Acting Premier appears to have chosen to sidestep the matter of imminent job losses in the agricultural sector due to the new minimum wage. Her failure to present a detailed plan to ensure continued viability of the sector and to mitigate against job losses in the province, will jeopardize the livelihoods of countless Northern Cape families.

This is a great paradox of a government professing great determination to create jobs and reduce poverty.

Yet another paradox is provincial government’s apparent focus on the green economy, when in fact the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Conservation is year on year allocated the smallest slice of all departments, receiving less than one percent of the provincial budget. Never mind that the environmental sector is the only one not to receive a conditional grant. In this regard I would like to say to the Hon. Premier that you can talk until you are blue in the face but if you fail to put money where your mouth is, then talk is cheap and the potentially significant job creating benefits of the green economy will be lost to the Northern Cape.

Violence against women

Hon. Speaker, Nancy Turner once said:

“Salt when, dissolved in water, may disappear but it does not cease to exist. We can be sure at its presence by tasting the water. The longer one lives, the more one realizes the impact of attitude on life.”

This brings me to the unacceptable manner in which woman and children are being abused in society as a whole.

It is in this context that one in three women in our country can expect to be raped in her lifetime. It is in this context that every eight hours, a South African woman is murdered by her intimate partner.

It is in this context that Monica Bloukop from Groblershoop was raped and mutilated, and Bettie Thenza from Galeshewe was abused by her partner and her body disposed of.

Hon. Speaker, we can no longer be powerless bystanders in the fight against gender based violence. I thus call on this provincial administration to take up this fight with the same conviction that marked the fight against apartheid.

In the Western Cape, the DA led provincial government is investing in their Victim Empowerment Programme. In 2009, its budget was R7,8 million. In the coming year, it will more than double to R17,7 million. Can the Northern Cape compare? Will the Acting Premier, who has failed to mention progress on the Northern Cape’s illusive anti-rape strategy, provide a detailed provincial plan to deal with sexual offences in her reply to this debate?

Hon. Speaker, drug and alcohol abuse are the main drivers of violent crime which threatens the future of many of our young people. In the DA run province of the Western Cape, the number of addiction treatment centres has increased from seven in 2008, to 24 across the province today.

Once again, what has this administration done for substance abuse in the Northern Cape, where we still do not have a single rehabilitation centre? Where our Acting Premier choses to mention progress on all health facilities across the province, except the one that matters most – namely the controversial Mental Health hospital? Corruption

This Hon. Speaker brings me to my last point of the day, namely corruption. The Acting premier merely mentioned the abuse of state resources, however she did not say what steps will be taken to put a lid on corruption in the Northern Cape. This is concerning considering that the Public Service Commission has indicated that there is an enormous overlap between the financial responsibilities and private business interests of senior managers in the Northern Cape. In fact, some senior managers have as many as eight companies on their disclosure forms. Given the likelihood of conflict of interest occurring in such cases, this is extremely worrying.

The DA has two proposals to put on the table:

1. Firstly, once again follow in the steps of the DA-run Western Cape government by implementing a policy through Provincial Treasury Regulations, in order to regulate the business interests of state employees.

2. Secondly, revise the Ministerial Handbook to put a stop to excessive spending that benefits politicians at the expense of the people.

In closing, Hon. Speaker, I would like to point out that solutions to the myriad of problems facing the Northern Cape do in fact exist. The only problem is whether or not the current administration actually has the ability, the desire and determination to bring back the Northern Cape’s sparkle.

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