Office of the Premier must provide strategic leadership

By Andrew Louw, MPL, DA Provincial Leader:

The following is an extract from the speech delivered today by the provincial leader of the DA, Andrew Louw, during the debate on the budget of the Office of the Premier in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature.

It is a privilege to participate in this budget debate as representative of the Democratic Alliance and to ensure that we, as members of the legislature, live up to the oath we swore.

It is appropriate to close the round of budget debates for 2015 with the Office of the Premier. As executive authority of the province, the Office of the Premier is responsible for providing sound strategic leadership. It is the task of the Office of the Premier to lead the provincial government to sound financial management and improved service delivery.

The Democratic Alliance notes that the Office of the Premier is beginning to master some aspects of this responsibility. But there are still areas of improvement. A better government, like charity, begins at home.

We welcome the commitment from the director-general that the review of the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy will also seek the input from civil society, organised labour forums, non-government organisations and members of the public. All sectors of our society must buy into this strategy if it is to be rolled out effectively. The new strategy must set realistic targets for economic growth, which requires inputs from the private sector. We trust that the review and implementation of the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy will happen sooner, rather than later.

The Democratic Alliance also notes the commitment to finalise the provincial language policy by September this year. In terms of section

4 of the Northern Cape Use of Official Languages Act, the Executive Council must adopt this policy by 30 September 2015.

I want to focus the honourable premier’s attention on the fact that section 7 of the Northern Cape Use of Official Languages Act requires that every provincial department must appoint or designate a specific language official. This language official fulfils a number of important functions which will ensure that the Act becomes a living document in the province. It does not help to have a strong piece of legislation if it is neither implemented nor respected. We see that with the Public Finance Management Act. Once the language policy is adopted, the provincial language officials must be ready to implement the Act and the policy.

The Democratic Alliance is concerned about the capacity of provincial departments to appoint language officials. I want to suggest that the newly established planning forum at the Office of the Premier puts the appointment of language officials high on the agenda. It is an issue which will affect all departments. See if we have skilled officials to appoint, determine the cost implications and decide how we will fund the implementation. The effective implementation of the Northern Cape Use of Official Languages Act is close to all our hearts.

The Office of the Premier has managed to achieve unqualified audits with findings since 2009. Considering the leadership role that the Office of the Premier has to play in the provincial government, one has to ask if this performance is good enough. It is bittersweet that provincial departments outperforms the Office of the Premier, which should be the shining example on financial management.

Similarly, all entities reporting to the Office of the Premier must also be able to account for the public funds entrusted to it. While the 2013/14 audit for the Premier Education Trust Fund was not finalised at the legislated date, the entity has received qualified audits with material findings from 2009 to 2013.

The Premier Education Trust Fund is playing a vital role in providing access to educational opportunities for those who would otherwise miss out. The Democratic Alliance supports the work done by the entity. We would like to see that the entity has better financial management – not for the sake of achieving a clean audit alone, but also to inspire confidence in its work.

The phrases ‘cost containment’ and ‘value for money’ was discussed at great length in this round of budget debates. One area that has been identified for cost containment by National Treasury is savings on subscriptions to newspapers.

The Democratic Alliance is concerned that the Office of the Premier has spent R6 million in one year on one newspaper alone. How many advertisements, subscriptions and tenders do you need to spend R6 million in one year?

Yes, the Office of the Premier has subscriptions to other publications and nobody complains. That is because other publications are not bought in bulk on the taxpayer’s account and then dumped en masse at state institutions. You do not find stacks of unread Noordwesters at the doors of the Fraserburg clinic. But if you go to any public library, health care facility or state institution in the province, you will find heaps of The New Age at the door.

The Director-General attempted to justify the expense by saying that The New Age is the most widely read paper in the province and that it provides value for money. Independent, verifiable facts does not support this view.

The South African Audience Research Foundation did their regular All Media Products Survey in December 2014 and found that The New Age has an average issue readership of 153 000. Not in the province, but in the country. However, the Volksblad has an average issue readership of

123 000 in the Northern Cape and the Free State and the Diamond Fields Advertiser has an average issue readership of 81 000. If you want to inform the public beyond Kimberley’s borders of the government’s work, you should look at alternatives beyond The New Age.

Other research conducted in 2014 shows that, in Kimberley alone, the Daily Sun has 32 000 readers and the Volksblad 8 000 readers every day. By comparison, The New Age reaches only a thousand readers across the entire province. There are community papers distributed for free that has higher readership figures than this.

Given these statistics, it is highly unlikely that The New Age is indeed the most widely paper read in the province. It is indeed far more likely that the Office of the Premier buys publicity for ANC events using taxpayers’ money. The only value for money that is at stake here is the value that the ANC receives.

The Honourable Premier will probably be tempted to talk about the decision of the Western Cape government to let a subscription to the Cape Times lapse. Let me invite her to be factual and to be relevant to the issue at hand. We are raising a concern that the Office of the Premier here is spending our hard-earned taxes on a piece of ANC propaganda. The decision in the Western Cape deals with inaccurate reporting which lead to a subscription not being cancelled, but allowed to lapse. The two issues are entirely different.

Overall, the Democratic Alliance has enjoyed a healthy and robust working relationship with the Office of the Premier. We appreciate the fact that we now have a premier who is readily available to answer oral questions without reply. It is refreshing to note that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.