SASSA and SAPO must come clean if social grants are at risk

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is extremely concerned by media reports today that seem to indicate that the South African Post Office (SAPO) is in grave financial difficulties and may be forced to close social grant cash distribution points.

We will therefore write to the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on Social Development, requesting that the committee urgently requests Minister Lindiwe Zulu to look into the situation and report back to Parliament.

Millions of South Africans are reliant on social grants to sustain themselves and their families. Moreover, many social grant recipients in rural areas have no means of accessing their grants other than through the cash distribution points. If SAPO plans on closing some of these cash distribution points, vulnerable grant recipients could be left in the lurch.

It is thus imperative that Minister Zulu, as the Minister responsible for Social Development, ascertain from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and SAPO what the extent of SAPO’s financial difficulties are and what impact it is likely to have on the distribution of social grants to the most vulnerable South Africans.

SASSA, SAPO and Minister Zulu must come clean if social grants are at risk. If SAPO becomes another failing state-owned entity and is no longer able to fulfil their contractual obligations in this regard, they – together with SASSA and Minister Zulu – will have to put forward urgent contingency measures to ensure that no social grant recipient is left in the lurch.

The DA believes that Parliament has an integral role to play in ensuring that government does not fail our most vulnerable citizens, and will continue to use this platform to hold government to account.

DA cannot overturn ANC failures without rejecting ANC thinking

This opinion piece by Cilliers Brink MP is in response to the Sunday Times editorial of last week, Sunday 9 February, ‘Fortunately, different voices can be heard in the DA‘. It was rejected for publication in this week’s Sunday Times.

In your editorial of 9 February you accuse the Democratic Alliance (DA) of not being interested in resolving SA’s problems. You reject the proposed review of DA values and principles released by our head of policy, Gwen Ngwenya, without referring to a single sentence in the document. You even blame the policy debate inside the DA for the decision of the EFF to bring ANC mayors back to power in the metros.

It seems that the Sunday Times has shut its mind to anything beyond the horizons of what the ANC has to offer.

You want the DA to break the dominance of the “arrogant ANC”, and stop the former liberation movement from destroying state-owned entities, and running municipalities into the ground. But you insist that the DA dare not challenge the ANC’s worldview, or the policy choices that have sprung from it. Sorry, but you cannot have it both ways.

And the DA cannot in good conscience promise to succeed in government where the ANC has failed without also undertaking a root-and-branch change of values and policy.

Experience has taught us that when you take over from a failed ANC administration, you step into a maelstrom. Unless the new government has a distinctive and forceful idea of why and how it will do things differently, it will be destroyed by the legacy of its predecessor’s failure. Voters will be devastated by how little real change an election can bring.

It is time to banish the old ANC trope, so easily repeated by Sunday Times, that if you are skeptical about racial classification as the basis for redress policy, you must be an apartheid denialist.

Read the DA’s proposed social contract with the South African people, and you will find the following impassioned reflection: ‘Our past is littered with myriad injustices including forced removes, job reservation, detention without trial, disparities in education, racial segregation, and concentration camps. The consequences of these injustices remain, compounded by poor governance, and reflected in high rates of poverty, unemployment, and general inequality of opportunity.’

It is exactly because the DA is passionate about breaking down historical barriers to opportunity that we should devise a redress policy not of the ANC’s making. Race-based policies are but one example of acute and systemic policy failure. As Ngwenya has said, race should not take up all the oxygen in the room as the DA considers the future. But whether the DA, and ultimately SA, will come to reject racial classification as the basis for public policy will have profound implications for SA’s growth trajectory, and the prospect of building a capable state.

Instead of overturning the economic exclusion of black South Africans, BEE has enriched a small multi-racial elite. Whether big business has the guts to say it openly or not, BEE has also repelled job-creating investment. Instead of enhancing state machinery to deliver better services, race-quotas have narrowed the pool of expertise available to organs of state, including municipalities and Eskom. And now the state is less capable of righting the wrongs of apartheid.

Wince if you must at these hard truths, or at least attempt to disprove them. But do not expect DA members to avoid difficult conversations about SA’s future.

As our economic slump enters its eleventh year, and another generation of matriculants enter a job-market that will have no place for them, SA has run out of easy options. You might not like what Gwen Ngwenya is saying today, but do not shut your mind to the alternative she has to offer. Tomorrow it might be SA’s saving grace.

 

STRAIGHT TALK: SONA and Ramaphosa: the night and knight of delusion

Long and well-spun as it was, Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address can be distilled down to a single naked fact: it didn’t deliver the reforms we need to reverse South Africa’s slide into bankruptcy. It didn’t even come close.

“Gradually and then suddenly” was Hemingway’s description of how you go bankrupt. We’re entering the “suddenly” phase, with our credit set to be junked soon after Mboweni delivers his budget speech later this month.

Yet Ramaphosa missed his Rubicon moment to fix the fundamentals.

He failed to administer even the basic CPR required to stabilise the patient. If the DA were in government, this is the shock treatment we would have delivered last night.

  • Solve our energy crisis by committing to 1) break Eskom’s monopoly entirely by opening the energy market to full competition, allowing companies and households to generate and sell electricity unhindered by the state, 2) sell off Eskom’s power stations to pay off its R450 billion debt, 3) free Eskom’s leadership to drive operational efficiencies.
  • Rapidly revive investor confidence by decisively walking away from expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, nationalising the Reserve Bank, and forcing pension funds to invest in state-owned companies.

And Ramaphosa denied our economy the treatment – long prescribed by the DA – that would nurse it to long-term health:

  • Make bold changes to our labour legislation to unleash entrepreneurship and job creation.
  • Stand up to SADTU to end their stranglehold on our basic education system, so that teachers can be properly trained, monitored and incentivised.
  • Do away with cadre deployment and BEE so that the appointments and tenders are on merit and in the best interests of the poor. This would do far more to fix our health system than will NHI.
  • Devolve SAPS powers to the provinces and metros as per international best practice.
  • Commit to reining in the public sector wage bill, by freezing wages for all managers and administrators for three years and reducing the number of such managers earning over a million rand a year by a third.

Though not nearly enough to arrest South Africa’s slide, we welcome the commitment to add additional energy to the grid and to back the DA’s long-fought proposal to allow municipalities to procure their own power from independent producers.

But mostly, we were dished up delusion: a state bank when the post bank is already unable to do its job; a sovereign wealth fund when the government already spends R1000 million more per day than it gets in taxes; a smart city when most municipalities are bankrupt or dysfunctional or both; coding and robotics for kids who can’t read; a capable state with cadre deployment.

It would be funny if it weren’t ruining millions of lives and destroying our future.

Ramaphosa’s problem is that for every major policy decision confronting him, he must choose between his party and his country. Either he goes the route that provides patronage and populist support to his party (NHI, EWC, SADTU etc) or he goes the route that generates inclusive growth for South Africa.

He chooses the ANC over South Africa every time.

It’s time for South Africans to wake up. Cyril is not the knight in shining armour that came to save us. We need to build a new majority for reform in South Africa. The DA will be at the forefront of this charge.

DA welcomes labour court ruling on NUM and SACCA application

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the Labour Court ruling which rejects the application made by the National Union of Metalworkers (NUM) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), to stop the South African Airways (SAA) Business Rescue Practitioners, Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana, from retrenching staff.

There is general consensus that SAA is overstaffed by at least 30% and with passengers abandoning SAA in droves, the overstaffing is probably much, much higher. There is absolutely no way that SAA can be rescued, if at all, without massive staff retrenchments.

The unions behaviour does not indicate their care of the welfare of workers, otherwise they would allow the SAA business rescue process to continue to save the airline. It was absurd for NUM and SACCA to have been under the impression that taxpayer bailouts would continue to be used to pour money into SAA to pay the bloated staff compliment.

The unions and Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, must now remove themselves from this process and allow the SAA business rescue practitioners to continue with their work unhindered.

Electricity announcements: Please act now President Ramaphosa

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that municipalities will now be allowed to purchase power from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) after the Democratic Alliance (DA) had been calling for this for many years.

However, we believe that President Ramaphosa’s announcements will mean nothing unless set timelines are urgently announced that will tell us when to expect delivery on promises. It will not be the first time that we have heard empty promises from the president.

Now is the time for action.

We, therefore, call on President Ramaphosa to immediately drop his government’s opposition to the City of Cape Town (CoCT) court case seeking Section 34 permission and grant Section 34 approval within the next 7 days.

The CoCT will then prove to be the case study of an excellently governed municipality procuring directly and keeping the lights on and the economy going.

If the president is serious, the national government will stop fighting the City in Court and start issuing these notices immediately.

We also call on the President to provide clarity on the following:

  • How he is going to deal with an obstructionist stance from the alliance partners, who have been adept at opposing all restructuring plans?
  • Will he clearly issue a rejection of Cosatu’s financing plan?
  • When will Eskom begin unbundling?

Eskom is in a death spiral and every day that goes by without the implementation of tangible solutions is another day of rolling blackouts and immense damage to our economy.

We cannot wait any longer. Please act now, Mr. President.

Mantashe is spanner in the works of President’s energy promises

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcements in his State of the Nation (SONA) address last night regarding the energy sector, it is worrying that Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe does not seem to be on board.

Shortly after Ramaphosa announced during SONA that Independent Power Producers will be able to sell electricity to financially viable municipalities, Mantashe contradicted him in media interviews afterward by saying he is unwilling to commit to opening Bid Window 5. This essentially makes the president’s promise an empty one.

A limited number of IPPs have received licences to provide electricity to the grid, following the opening of four and half bid windows so far. The Integrated Resource Plan calls for more renewables to be added on an annual basis, but Mantashe has to open the next bid window, which will be the fifth one.

He has not done so, and judging by his statements last night he does not intend to do so anytime soon.

Mantashe has also continuously delayed the signing of section 34 notices, and has been slow to act on the amendment of schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act.

Every day of delay of these urgent reforms is another day of rolling blackouts and another day of severe damage to the South African economy.

Minister Mantashe needs to come clean on what his immediate steps will be to implement the President’s promises without any further delays. We will hold him to account, as well as calling on the President to act against Mantashe if he continues to be the spanner in the works.

Ramaphosa chooses ANC over SA

This evening, in his 2020 SONA speech, President Ramaphosa was forced into making a choice he has been putting off since assuming the office of the President two years ago. He was forced to choose between saving his country from economic disaster and saving his party from internal war. And tonight he chose the ANC over South Africa.

I am sure this was no easy decision for the President. No one wants to be remembered as the man on whose watch the country’s economy collapsed and millions of people were forced into hardship and suffering. But similarly, he would not want his legacy to be the weakening and possible split of the former liberation movement.

A bold president, however, would have chosen his country every time. Cyril Ramaphosa chose his party.

This SONA speech was his moment. The perfect storm of a stalled economy, rampant unemployment, fast-disappearing investment, shrinking tax revenue and a failed state-owned power utility has meant that this decision could no longer be kicked down the road, as the President has been doing these past two years. We have reached the proverbial D-day for introducing the critical reforms needed to stave off an economic collapse.

President Ramaphosa knows this urgency, and he also knows exactly what needs to be done. Since the start of his term as president – and particularly in recent months – economists, ratings agencies, opposition parties and even his own Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, have been telling him the same thing: Either you make bold economic reforms – even if this politically difficult – or you sign the death warrant of our economy.

The most urgent of these reforms are:
Breaking Eskom’s monopoly, closing the tap of taxpayer bailouts and keeping government’s hands off pension savings
Relaxing our stifling labour legislation to enable labour-absorbing businesses to succeed.
Reviving investor confidence by immediately walking away from the destructive populist policies of Expropriation Without Compensation and the National Health Insurance.

These were the low-hanging fruits that would have made the big difference. Without these critical interventions, our chances at rescuing our free-falling economy become very slim indeed. There are, however, many other things the President should also have announced tonight, such as doing away with the elite enrichment scam that is BBBEE, fixing basic education by curtailing the power of SADTU, and ensuring the safety of South Africans by devolving SAPS power to the provinces and metros.

But in each of these instances there is an interest within the ruling ANC alliance that was considered more important than the fate of 58 million South Africans.

In the case of Eskom and the electricity crisis, the President made some moves in the right direction, but stopped far short of what was required. Eskom remains the biggest threat to our nation, and the emergency measures announced tonight simply confirm what we all know: Eskom is dead. The ANC’s insistence on trying to resurrect it by raiding the pensions of government employees is madness. There is no “financially sustainable” way to throw a quarter of a trillion Rand of pension savings down a hole that has no bottom.

So while we welcome the announcement of plans to add additional energy to the grid, promises to process applications by commercial and industrial users to produce their own power within 120 days, as well as the decision to back the DA’s long-fought proposal to allow municipalities to procure their own power from independent producers, this is simply not enough.

What the President should have announced tonight was not only the breaking up of the utility into three separate entities – that of generation, transmission and distribution – but also the privatisation of parts of it to settle its debt. He should have announced a rationalisation of its bloated workforce, and he should have vowed to keep his hands of the pension savings of hard-working South Africans.

Instead the president chose to side with its union partners. He chose to protect the monopoly of the failed power utility at the expense of ordinary South Africans, who now have to pay three times for this failure: Once through the tax-funded bailouts, once through hiked electricity tariffs, and once through load-shedding and its resultant effects on the economy.

The president also chose to protect the financial interests of the unions who would stand to lose out if any of their members lost their jobs at the overstaffed Eskom. The irony of protecting the jobs of the same people whose pension savings he is planning to raid to prop up Eskom seems to have been lost on him.

We saw this same party-ahead-of-country decision playing out in virtually every other decision or omission of this SONA speech.

What the country, and particularly the 10.4 million South Africans without work, desperately needed was bold reforms to our draconian labour legislation that would allow businesses to thrive and absorb labour. For instance, there is no logical reason that Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises should have to jump through all the onerous and business-killing labour legislation, other than the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

The business community have been begging this ANC government to help them solve our massive unemployment crisis, and President Ramaphosa knows exactly what needs to be done to free up our labour regime. But still he chose to side with the economic insiders – those with jobs as opposed to the millions on the outside – and maintain our hostile labour laws.

The same can be said for the economy-killing policies of Expropriation Without Compensation and the National Health Insurance. Both of these are guaranteed to have disastrous consequences for our economy and our people, yet the president and his government remain attracted to them like doomed moths to a flame.

In the case of the NHI, this is a plan we don’t need and certainly can’t afford. The additional tax burden this will require will surely slam a nail in the coffin of our already-dwindling tax revenue, not to mention the inevitable drain on our doctors and nurses as they leave our shores to flee the NHI. Furthermore, nothing in the NHI proposal speaks to the real challenges of healthcare infrastructure failure, skills shortages and the shortage of life-saving medicines.

Similarly, EWC will kill off all future investment in South Africa. A country that can’t guarantee secure property rights cannot possibly convince anyone that their investment will be safe. The moment you start picking and pulling at the thread of property rights, you start to unravel the entire economy. This is precisely what happened to Zimbabwe when they went down this road.

President Ramaphosa knows all of this. He knows that NHI will ruin healthcare in South Africa, both private and public. And he knows that EWC will shut the door on all investment, thereby hastening our runaway unemployment and our economic collapse. But yet he is prepared to persist with both these schemes, not because they are in the interest of the people of this country, but because they offer a cheap and easy tool for his party to win populist support. ANC first, South Africa last.

Tonight was his chance to be bold and courageous – to be the President of South Africa and not just the President of the ANC. To turn to his party and say, “This won’t be comfortable, but there are some things we have to do for the sake of our country.” But when push came to shove, President Ramaphosa simply could not do that.

Many South Africans were shocked back in 2015 when then President Zuma said, “I argued one time with someone who said the country comes first and I said, as much as I understand that, I think my organisation, the ANC, comes first.” It seemed treasonous for a President to unashamedly suggest that the interests of his party should trump those of his country. But Zuma was no aberration in his party. This attitude of “ANC first, South Africa last” is part of the DNA of the ruling party. President Ramaphosa’s decision to save the ANC at the expense of South Africa comes as no surprise.

His choice this evening could not have been simpler: Save your country from near certain economic collapse, or save your party and its alliance partners from a possible split down the middle.

This evening, with the eyes of the world on him and the hopes and expectations of every single South African resting on his shoulders, President Ramaphosa said, “Sorry, but I choose the ANC”.

EFF disruption of SONA denying the nation critical answers

Tonight’s antics of the EFF to disrupt the State of the Nation Address, on a series of spurious points, shows the childishness and immaturity of the party.

At a time in our nation when urgent solutions are needed to pressing crises in our country, the EFF has chosen to prevent the president confronting these. The DA has expectations for clear and definitive answers from the President tonight, and should he be prevented from addressing the nation we move further backward as a nation.

The EFF must adide the rules of Parliament, and the EFF must allow the President to speak.

Every member in the House, and every south African has the right to hear the State of the Nation tonight.

If you’re well enough for SONA, you’re well enough for court, Mr Zuma

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has taken note of reports indicating that former President Jacob Zuma will attend the 2020 State of the Nation Address.

Mr Zuma was too sick to attend his trial at the Pietermaritzburg Division of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court and too sick to attend the Zondo Commission yet now he is seemingly fit as a fiddle to travel all the way to Cape Town to attend the pomp and pageantry that is SONA.

To add insult to injury, Mr Zuma’s “doctor” reportedly booked him off until April. It would seem that the only illness that Mr Zuma is suffering from is an inability to appear before court and facing justice for the corruption charges that he faces.

Quite frankly, if Mr Zuma is not too ill to attend SONA in Cape Town, then he certainly is not too ill to attend his court hearing in Pietermaritzburg.

Furthermore, having Mr Zuma at SONA, in a place known to us all, would certainly make it much easier for the clerk of the court to issue his warrant of arrest.

Hlophe: DA will not remain silent when judiciary is threatened

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s statements in an affidavit submitted to the Judicial Conduct Commission (JSC) where he reportedly accuses the DA (as well as the Cape Town Bar Association and also former judge Johann Kriegler) of “judging” him.

His statements suggest the Judge President believes that he is being criticised unfairly.

The DA wants to make it clear that our views and assessment of his conduct are guided by our respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. These are among the most fundamental and central values enshrined in the Constitution.

For many years, Judge Hlophe has escaped accountability for the myriad of allegations that have been leveled against him and as a consequence, he continues to sit at the helm of the Western Cape High Court where he wields influence for political gain.

The DA holds the view that no one – not even, and especially, the Judge President — should be above the law.

We also reiterate our call for Judge Hlophe to be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation into this matter.

The serious allegations against a Judge President not only present a threat to the credibility and independence of the judiciary but also diminishes public confidence in the courts, if not dealt with swiftly.

The latest complaint laid against Judge Hlophe by his deputy, Deputy Judge President (DJP) Patricia Goliath, serves above all to highlight an already grim picture of a court division that has all but been captured by Hlophe and his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe. The allegations against Hlophe listed in DJP Goliath’s complaint to the Judicial Services Commission include:

  • Allegations of nepotism;
  • A climate of fear and intimidation, including Hlophe both verbally and physically abusing colleagues;
  • Hlophe unilaterally changing court rules and best practice without any consultation in order to “advance his own narrow personal agenda”;
  • Hlophe unilaterally deciding to dissolve the position of Deputy Judge President;
  • Undue interference in the appointment of acting judges and in the assignment of judges to particular cases in a bid to affect the findings.

That these allegations must be investigated should be clear to everyone who holds dear the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Similarly, anyone holding dear the integrity and independence of the judiciary would know that this can only happen in the temporary absence from office of JP Hlope.

The DA will not remain silent when the independence of the judiciary is brought into question. An independent judiciary underpins a capable democratic state and when a court’s independence is brought into question, such allegations must be dealt with swiftly and decisively.