Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature
Premier Ace Magashule must tackle the hard issues in his State of the Province Address on Thursday evening. Poverty, inequality and unemployment in the Free State have reached critical levels, while service delivery has deteriorated.
The recent STATS SA General Household Survey (GHS) paints a dismal picture. Out of a population of 2.7 million people, only 514 000 cited salaries as a main source of income, while 477 000 cited social grants as the only source of income. This roughly means that only 59.6% of Free State Households are salaried, while 55.2% are either completely dependent on social assistance, or depend on grants to supplement income.
The current unemployment rate is at 39.9% (expanded definition). This means that out of a total possible workforce population of 1.25 million, 496 000 people are unable to find jobs. Youth unemployment in the Free State is currently at 48.2%, the highest in the country.
As our economy heads towards a possible recession, the people of the Free State would undoubtedly like to see decisive leadership from the premier, and action by government, to improve their lives considerably.
Premier Magashule must focus on five key areas:
1. Free State economic growth and job creation
With the introduction of the Small Business department, Premier Magashule must implement a ‘Free State First’ approach in the province. In his previous term it has become standard for government to award contracts and tenders to companies and individuals from outside the province. This trend must stop. Additional weighting must be extended to Free State registered and owned companies.
If the premier fails to adopt this approach the Small Business initiative will fail, and as more Free State companies are forced to close down unemployment will skyrocket further.
2. Clean up government’s financial mismanagement
The Provincial Department of Health is in crisis. People’s lives are put in danger due to the administrative and financial mismanagement of MEC Benny Malakoane. The GHS shows that almost 2.28 million people in the Free State do not have access to medical aid schemes, leaving them completely dependent on public health. The only cure for our health department is striving for excellence. Every public hospital should strive for the same standards of service delivery as private health care.
Premier Magashule must take the first step to turn this situation around and replace MEC Malakoane with an individual who understands the concepts of sound and transparent management.
The Department of Education entered this financial year with a R1.2 billion shortfall. Urgent measures must be announced on how this department will be brought into the green.
Drastic cost cutting measures must be adopted by the provincial government. There is no justification for the purchase of new official luxury vehicles, expensive international trips and other luxuries. The people’s money must be used to benefit the people. A smaller and more effective administration will make more resources available for the delivery of services and infrastructure.
3. Infrastructure development and the improvement of service delivery
The GHS showed that 17.3% of the provincial population considers the piped water they receive as unfit for human consumption. The province’s water infrastructure is in decay and almost half of all piped water is lost due to leakages. A detailed programme must be adopted to fix the Free State’s water infrastructure.
The R230 million allocated to the province to eradicate the bucket system must be utilised to improve sanitation as a matter of urgency. More than 220 000 people in the province do not have access to suitable sanitation and 7.7% of the population are forced to make use of the bucket system. It is unacceptable that twenty years into democracy this is still the case.
A sound roads infrastructure is key to our rural economy and our labour intensive agricultural sector. An audit must be conducted to assess the situation of roads in the province and clear strategies and timeframes must be given for the rehabilitation of roads. All possible resources should be accessed from national government for investment in roads.
4. Assist and intervene in failing municipalities
Many municipalities across the Free State are struggling to deliver on their constitutional mandates and are riddled with corruption, financial mismanagement and incompetence. Both the Nala and Maluti-a-Phofung municipalities are unable to pay their ESKOM bills while service delivery in the Moqhaka municipality is almost non-existent. The provincial government can’t shy away from its responsibility to intervene in these municipalities. The premier must show decisive leadership and intervene and assist where necessary.
The ability of municipalities to supply reliable sources of water, electricity and infrastructure are crucial elements to economic growth. Most municipalities have departments of “Local Economic Development” that merely pay salaries to cadres and contribute nothing towards the creation of economic environments that are conducive to investment and job creation.
5. Fight corruption
Corruption destroys service delivery and has a destructive effect on economic growth and job creation. A clear approach must be adopted to eradicate corruption. Those individuals suspected of illicit activities must be suspended, investigated expediently, and prosecuted without fear or favour and not be promoted to the Provincial Executive.
We would like to hear Premier Magashule announce that the provincial government’s illegal and irregular contracts with Letlaka Communications are cancelled and those implicated in the scandal are brought to book.
We would also like to see increased transparency from government. Accessing information from the provincial government is an impossible task. Information of government programmes, annual reports and internal investigations must be made public, and be easily accessible by publishing these online. A lack of transparency promotes an environment of unaccountability. In this respect the Executive must make time to answer questions and attend portfolio committee meetings of the legislature.
If Premier Ace Magashule focusses on these five key areas of governance it would go a long way in promoting economic growth and job creation. It will also improve the quality of life of all our people in the province through improved and effective service delivery. Anything less will be an affront to the people of the Free State and a total disregard for their wellbeing.
The DA in the legislature is committed to the people of the Free State and will support any measures that will improve the lives and livelihoods of our people.