KZN SOPA Debate – Premier must commit to action and time frames

Sizwe Mchunu, MPP

Leader of the DA in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature

Madam Speaker, the Premier delivered a lacklustre State of the Province Address yesterday, glossing over the areas that pose a threat to progress within the province and devoting a mere 13 lines to how the provincial government is fighting corruption. The signs are so explicit – fraud and corruption are constant thorns in our tax-payers flesh.

The address is, in many respects, the legacy that the Premier will leave. The DA believes that his tenure will be remembered for inaction and political speeches that never resulted in any tangible outputs to the benefit of society. We see his tenure as being marked by the announcement of a myriad grand plans without action and time frames. We also believe that the Premier will leave a legacy of not having demanded accountability from his executive members.

We in the DA are yet to be convinced that our beloved province of KwaZulu-Natal is in a good state. This is despite the many attempts to spin a more positive story. We want KZN to be a success but almost everywhere there are problems of non-delivery. Society is in pain – evidence of frequent incidents of violence against women, children and elderly, come to mind.

It is our view that there were several issues that the Premier treated superficially during yesterday’s SOPA and also that some were glaringly omitted. The fact that he has chosen to ignore the threats faced by the province is alarming. Let me mention some of the said issues:

The province’s “Triple Challenge” – namely poverty, unemployment and inequality, as described by the Premier in his 2012 SOPA. He promised then, that the ANC-leadership had a plan to address these crises and yet in the Premier’s speech, it emerged that there are over 1.4 million people in KZN that don’t have water, electricity and sanitation.

Many of the plans proposed for the province of KwaZulu-Natal are set to culminate in 2030. To the poor and the unemployed this is a very long way away. They are not interested in academic or political speeches – action on the ground is what counts. The people want results now.

Poverty and unemployment remain the provinces biggest challenges. While the ANC dithers over the youth wage subsidy young people become ever more depressed by the lack of job opportunities.

Other serious issues in the province that the Premier did not deal with include;

· Drugs in schools and the alleged involvement of SAPS members,

· The drop-out rate between Grade 1 and Grade 12 in KZN’s schools – Education in KZN is not without good leadership and good ideas but it lacks the resolve or political will to confront in an urgent and aggressive way the legions of incompetent and lazy employees both in the classrooms and in department offices. A telephone call to an education office or an unannounced visit to schools substantiates the huge gap between the vision of a first-world education system and the foot-dragging lethargy of large sections of our employees.

· Where is the Premier’s 2012 plan to see heavy freight return to rail? Yesterday, the Premier announced extensive plans aimed at improving passenger rail but he seems to have forgotten the promise he made during the SOPA 2012.

· Ability of agencies such as the ADA and Royal Household to deliver value service

· Weak efforts to combat waste and inefficiency within the Agriculture and Health departments specifically. The Premier did not once mention Addington Hospital’s failure to provide a quality health service to the people of the province. The Health MEC’s unethical helicopter ride provided the Premier with the opportunity to exert real leadership, simply by banning any MEC in his government from misusing emergency transport vehicles at any time. Yet he has been silent on the matter.

· We condemn the Premier’s tardiness in establishing a judicial commission of inquiry into the deaths of aspirant RTI officers. In the interest of your government’s integrity and in solidarity with the families that lost their loved ones in the said fiasco, we expected bold and harsh action from your side against your colleague MEC Willies Mchunu, pending the outcome of the inquiry.

· Municipalities in meltdown: Despite our province’s municipalities being in financial crisis, the Premier has only touched on this. Provincial operation clean audit has proved a dismal failure with just one municipality in the entire province able to achieve a clean audit. Yet there is not a single harsh word for the 60 municipalities that failed to deliver. What does this say about the provincial government’s commitment to the people of this province? Last year six KZN municipalities received clean audits. Awards were presented and a party was thrown in the hopes that other municipalities would be motivated and improve on their performance. Sadly this has not happened, with only one clean audit this year.

This year seven Municipalities have had disclaimers, this is disgraceful. Something has gone wrong. Municipalities have paid millions in performance bonuses in 2010/11 to their municipal managers and section 57 Employees and have not indicated where the funds have been obtained to pay these bonuses. As at January 2013 the Department had underperformed in Local Governance and was lagging behind, in its targets for Public participation, Economic Development, Municipal Finance and Traditional Institutional Administration and Land Administration. Municipalities are not able to collect debt effectively – the figure has soared to over R4 billion. Nor are they able to deal with on-going theft of water or electricity or the ability to spend capital budgets. Meanwhile, infrastructure backlogs grow and potholes are left unfixed almost everywhere.

The massive increase in municipal irregular expenditure from R893m to R2.7 billion in 2011/2012 is indicative of the total disregard for SCM Processes and must be addressed. It is creating an ideal environment for fraud and corruption to thrive. Accounting officer must be held ultimately responsible and appropriate steps must be taken against them. The consistent refusal to release the Manase Report somewhat indicates that the ANC is protecting it cronies and cadres.

The DA has called for a skills audit of all municipal managers, CFO’s and Section 57 Employees to determine whether they are fit for purpose.

· The decline in KwaZulu-Natal’s equitable share as consequence of 2011 census – despite the well-documented flaws in data collection, national treasury has gone ahead and reduced KZN’s equitable share because of an apparent relative decline in KZN population. Budget allocations will peg spending over the MTEF period which means an extended period where KZN has to become more productive and efficient with less money. How does the province’s ANC leadership plan to deal with this? (not mentioned in SOPA)

· Compensation to employees remains the biggest drain on the provincial coffers with a 79% increase in expenditure. This leaves less money in the pot for services and infrastructure. Meanwhile, there is a plan to increase staff complements across all departments. How can this be considered when Education is experiencing a reduction in staffing despite being the area most in need of funding?

· The proposed rural development summit must tackle head on the widespread failure of the land restitution programme to delivery meaningful transfer of productive land. It is astonishing that the Premier can concede that 108 960 hectares handed over are now totally unproductive – this is a massive failure that cannot simply be glossed over.

· Rhino poaching: In his address as he officially opened the Legislature, His Majesty expressed his disquiet in the scourge of Rhino poaching and I find it difficult to accept that the Premier did not address this particular matter in his state of the province address. While Treasury’s awarding of R26 million to fight the scourge of poaching of rhino and other endangered species is welcomed, we are concerned that R2 million is being spent on the MEC’s TV adverts. As the DA, we would spend every cent arming foot soldiers and providing them with the resources to take on the poachers in the field with ammunition that out matches the poachers’ arsenal.

· Failure to meet set targets – The Premier alluded to a target of 2.1 million jobs by 2030. I guess the Premier chose to ignore the fact that there appears to be a trend in KZN Government of failing to meet set targets in certain departments i.e: The 43 000 houses promised by the Premier in his previous SOPA address will not be met. Even the Human Settlement’s MEC has admitted this. It is unlikely that the revised and reduced target of 27 184 will be achieved. Ethekwini, the province’s largest housing delivery Agent was delivering 16 000 housing units annually until a few years. Yet it is still struggling to deliver on its reduced targets. The funds allocated for the acquisition of land in Ethekwini has not been used. There has been no progress made on Social Housing since the beginning of the financial year, with none of the targeted 272 Social Housing Units completed. The R2.1 billion Vulindlela Housing Project is also running behind with claims that the Vulindela Development Association is slowing down the delivery process. Only 6 000 of the targeted 7 500 homes have been built. The DA earlier warned that the VDA is not equipped nor does it have the capacity to deliver on scale. The outcome of the Public Protector’s probe into allegations that the project failed to follow SCM processes is still being waited for. CRU program has also failed to deliver, with only 69 of the targeted 430 homes completed.

· A major concern to the DA is the re-emergence of political intolerance, instability and no-go zones in our province. This is borne out by well documented cases of political murder in a number of areas. On-going battles between the ANC, IFP and NFP over a number of municipalities have resulted in court hearings which will not resolve the underlying failure to provide stable local government in these municipalities. Acts of intimidation against the DA, where we have been prevented from exercising basic constitutional oversight, are a disgrace and a challenge to the law enforcement agencies to protect the rights of opposition parties.

· Weak leadership in key agencies such as NPA. There have been some very strange decisions by the provincial NPA to drop charges against prominent KZN citizens who just happen to be politically connected i.e. Amigos, and to do so without providing proper explanation. This seriously undermines public faith in independence of prosecution authorities. The DA’s attempts to get explanation in terms of due process have been stone-walled.

· The SAPS Commission of Enquiry into alleged inefficiency shows the clear failure of civilian bodies, both portfolio committee and CPFs, to exercise real oversight over the police force in our province. The shameful obstruction of the Premier’s commission of inquiry and lack of executive action in response to the report shows an alarming lack of political will.

Last year, the DA called for a “far more aggressive provincial leadership when it comes to accountability and the monitoring and oversight of service delivery projects – “on time and on budget”. We stand by this as we head into yet another year.

The one highlight for the DA in yesterday’s SOPA is the reduction in HIV infection rates and the extended life expectancy figures, especially in rural areas. A programme of making anti-retrovirals freely available, for which the DA fought for many years and which the province of KZN adopted long before it was national ANC policy, is definitely bearing fruit.

Despite the many negatives outlined above, the DA believes that KwaZulu-Natal is a province bursting with opportunity, if only its leadership would unlock the potential that is waiting. A DA-led government in KwaZulu-Natal would offer exactly what the ANC cannot deliver. We have proved, in the Western Cape, that it is possible to have clean audits, hold officials accountable, eliminate wasteful expenditure and offer real service delivery.

The choice is in the hands of KwaZulu-Natal’s voters.

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