What departments have to hide

Andrew Louw, MPL

DA Provincial Leader

79% of the written questions posed by the Democratic Alliance since the elections have gone unanswered. We have sent a total of 101 questions and received a meagre 22 replies. This is not just incredibly lazy and entirely unprofessional. This is a serious failure from MECs to fulfil their constitutional obligations to account to the provincial Legislature. And it begs a question – what are MECs trying to hide from the public? Why is it so difficult to give an honest answer to a straightforward question?

In terms of the Rules of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature, the relevant MEC has ten working days to reply to questions. It is only the department of Sport, Arts and Culture which responded to some questions within the stipulated timeframe.

In October, we requested intervention from the Speaker, Kenny Mmoiemang, and the Leader of Government Business, Mxolisi Sokatsha.

Even though the Legislature has now closed up shop for the year, we are yet to receive the courtesy of a reply. The Leader of Government Business has failed to take his responsibility seriously. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, as he has answered only one of the four questions addressed to him. Four of his colleagues similarly failed to answer even a single question. These four culprits are Norman Shushu (Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform), Tiny Chotelo (Environment and Nature Conservation), Mac Jack (Health) and Martha Baartlett (Transport, Safety and Liaison).

We will never let a lack of accountability simply slide. During the tabling of the annual reports, we took the extraordinary measure of giving each department a docket with outstanding questions. It was only COGHSTA who heeded our call for a response and who came forth to answer our questions fully. Before we took this step, Alvin Botes failed to answer any of our questions.

We are not asking questions because we have nothing better to do. We ask parliamentary questions because we identify issues that are important to the community. We ask questions to seek information that cannot be found elsewhere. We ask questions because we, as part of the Legislature, need to hold the MECs to account.

The 78% unanswered issues include:

  • The costs of overseas trips undertaken by the Office of the Premier.

According to the 2013/14 Annual Report, spending on foreign travel has increased with 155%. Who does the Premier take with her when she’s flitting overseas? What is the purpose of her travels and how does the Northern Cape benefit? Surely the Premier would be able to answer these questions if the trips were all undertaken for legitimate business reasons.

  • Health admitted in its second quarterly report that it is facing a

mass exodus of skilled staff. In a mere three months, 19 professional nurses and 3 nursing managers resigned. Similarly, the vacancy rate for doctors increased to 19% since last year. The provincial vacancy rate for pharmacists is now at a worrying 45%. How are the poorest of the poor, who cannot afford private care, going to receive medical treatment and medicine if the department cannot retain its staff?

Health cannot answer us on how many community service doctors have been employed in the past three years or how many have been retained.

It cannot say how many of its medical staff has resigned and, worryingly, it does not know how to retain medical practitioners.

  • Economic Development cannot say which SMME’s will be receiving

financial assistance during the current financial year nor can they say how much each SMME will receive. We have to know that beneficiaries are deserving entrepreneurs who can play their part in economic development. Who are the owners of the 45 SMME’s who are set to benefit? Where are their business plans? Do the owners have the business skills to start and build successful companies? Why does the department want to hide these facts? Is it because the SMME support is nothing more than the channeling of political patronage?

  • It seems Social Development has no future plans to better address

the scourge of domestic violence in the province. Addressing domestic violence remains a problem, especially in the Namaqua district. 407 of the 731 cases reported to Social Development in the 2013/14 year happened in Namaqua. This horrific trend continues in the current year – of the 55 cases reported in the second quarter, 28 occurred in Namaqua. Yet this is the one district that does not have a single shelter for the victims of domestic violence. How will Social Development improve its victim support services? How will it help to break the cycle of abuse?

  • Provincial Treasury has allocated R20 million to be spent on

consultants for municipalities in the current financial year. In the

2012/13 financial year, municipalities spent R45 million on consultants without seeing any substantial improvement in audit outcomes. In fact, when compared to the 2011/12 year, 50% more was spent on consultants to assist with financial report. But 13 municipalities still received disclaimers. 11 of these disclaimers have been repeated since the 2008/09 financial year. Municipalities don’t need consultants. They need proper record keeping, adequate financial management and sufficient trained staff. Why is Treasury splashing out money to address the symptoms, but not the cause, of the problem?

  • Upgrades to state-owned properties remain shrouded in secrecy. Roads

and Public Works is unwilling to indicate how much of our public funds have been spent on renovating state-owned properties. There could be mini-Nkandlas mushrooming throughout the province, with nobody being any wiser. Earlier this year, reports indicated that the premier saw fit to spend R200 000 of our taxes on a coat of paint for her house.

How much more is being spent for politicians to live in the lap of luxury while approximately 14 000 households in Frances Baard alone are homeless?

  • The state-owned farm, Taaiboschdraai, is similarly kept under a veil

of secrecy. Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform cannot say what its immediate plans are for this farm. Nor can it say what benefits the province derives from the leasing of this farm. Four years ago, approximately R5 million was spent on fencing for the farm.

But now the department does not know what infrastructure or livestock is present on the farm. Who is the mystery occupant receiving such special treatment from the public funds?

  • A record of 1 020 rhinos have been poached in South Africa this

year. But Environment and Nature Conservation is mum on its anti-poaching strategies. Do we have the capacity to protect and conserve our natural resources? Or are Northern Cape rhinos doomed to go the way of the quagga?

  • Phakalane Airways seems to be another state secret. We have asked

Transport, Safety and Liaison repeatedly to provide copies of the management contract and they have failed to respond. Why the need for such secrecy? In 2013/14, the department paid R3 million to Phakalane Airways’s operating company, Bevlink Aviation. This sum was deemed irregular expenditure by the Auditor-General. It raises a large red flag.

  • Education is silent on learner enrolment and retention rates.

According to UNICEF, South Africa has a primary school repetition rate of 7%. In high school, it ranges from 18% to 21%. These figures are significantly higher than the norms for developing as well as developed countries. How many learners in the Northern Cape have to repeat their grades? And why? Are they being culled to reflect well on the school or are they dropping out to seek employment?

  • Sport, Arts and Culture cannot say whether it has signed any lease

agreements with Ocean Echo Properties 333 CC. This company has been involved in controversial deals, starting with the lease of the Meridian Hotel and now including the new headquarters of Transport, Safety and Liaison. Is this secrecy meant to shield the fact that the provincial government is embroiled in yet another set of Trifecta-type scandals?

As the DA, we will never let these questions rest. We will continue to dig and dig until we find the truth.