New SAPO CEO inherits mail mountain and growing debt

While the Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the appointment of the new, permanent SA Post Office (SAPO) CEO Ms Nomkhita Mona, whose sterling academic background and business record is a step in the right direction on the path to leadership stability, it’s going to be all uphill for her as the entity is moving downhill at a rate of knots.

Lack of leadership is only one of many issues faced by the SAPO, as a report just tabled before the Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies reveals an organisation in deep trouble. The SAPO is unable to meet its core postal delivery mandate, expenses are far outstripping revenue, suppliers are used as an unofficial coercive credit line, and the troubled entity is losing hundreds of millions each month.

As the latest in a long line of turnaround plans failed to materialise in any beneficial way, the year-to-date net loss increased to R1.354 billion, cash flow deficits are increasing monthly, and creditors and accruals at end September 2020 stood at a staggering R1.774 billion – with no indication of how this will be funded. The 24 February Budget allocation is a relatively paltry R500 million – barely enough to cover Quarter 2’s trading loss of R429 million.

The labour instability that brought the SAPO to its knees in November 2014 is once again rearing its head, with demoralized staff embarking on wildcat strikes as they worry about the safety of their jobs and their unpaid medical aid and pension contributions.

In an environment where private sector competitors are not only surviving but thriving, the SAPO mail backlog at September 2020 was almost 7 million items, revealing an entity incapable of delivering mail timeously according to International Postal Union standards.

The SAPO does have some market advantages, such as the size of its footprint – the largest number of outlets in the country, although its nimble competitors are fast eroding this with reliably efficient collections and deliveries of mail and parcels.

As the entity is clearly unsustainable in its current outdated form, bold action is needed to ensure its survival so the vital role it plays in connecting people with post, especially in deep rural areas, isn’t lost forever.

Having received more than R8 billion in bailouts in the last seven years, the perilous state of government finances means there’s no money available for more handouts. The SAPO remains broke and broken.

With no direction from government on how the SAPO will be funded to continue their loss-making operations as a going concern before it is forced into business rescue and inevitable liquidation, private sector partners must be engaged in a public-private partnership – or the entity sold outright. There is simply no other way.

DA files Press Ombudsman complaint following Sunday Times misrepresentation

The DA has today filed a complaint with the Press Ombudsman following a Sunday Times article that appeared in the newspaper yesterday (Sunday 28 February). The opening sentence of this article – based on an hour-long interview with DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen – sought to create the impression that the DA was open to a coalition agreement with the ANC. This was never stated in the interview and is a misrepresentation of the DA’s position on the issue.

Two sentences in particular contributed to this misrepresentation – one was a distortion of what was said, and the other was simply untrue. In the interest of fair and accurate reporting, we have asked the ombudsman to compel the Sunday Times to retract the article and print a correction

The opening sentence of the article claims the following: “DA leader John Steenhuisen has opened the door to a possible coalition with the ANC should there be a stalemate in the 2024 elections – but only if President Cyril Ramaphosa is still its leader.”

That is not what Steenhuisen said to the two interviewers, a full recording of which can be heard above. When he spoke of the possibility of working together with the ANC, he didn’t mention coalitions. He spoke of reaching out to the reformers in the party who are in favour of a pro-growth agenda and seeking their support in backing a reform agenda when tabled in parliament.

He spoke of the need for pro-growth, pro-reform and pro-Constitution people to start talking to each other, and that a strong party at the centre – i.e. the DA – makes a good ally for a reform agenda within the ANC to find backing. That’s not the same as claiming that the DA is willing to enter into coalitions with the ANC, and this needs to be corrected by the Sunday Times.

The other sentence that needs to be corrected states the following: “Steenhuisen’s stance marks a significant departure for the DA, which has long been opposed to any co-operation with the ANC.”

This is simply not true. Not only has the DA under Steenhuisen’s leadership repeatedly extended a hand across the aisle to whichever reformers remain in the ANC, this has also been the consistent position of the previous DA Federal Leader, Mmusi Maimane, who often spoke of building a new majority by co-operating with those in the ANC who share the DA’s values and vision for South Africa.

In the build-up to the 2016 Local Government elections, Maimane said in an interview with the Reuters news agency: “What will be required now is a re-alignment of politics that will in fact mean that people can work together, sometimes across ideological lines to accelerate the project, that very project that you can’t have one party dominance thing, but rather it’s better for us to have a competitive democracy – where people can choose, and power can shift from one party to the next without fear and intimidation.”

The following year, in a speech at Constitutional Hill, Maimane said the following: “We need to put all our energies into saving our country. And I am prepared to work with all parties that share this goal. This includes those good people remaining in the ANC who have been moved by recent events to speak out about what is happening in their party. Today, I extend a hand of friendship to all of them. I want them to know that we are open to working with them in the future, in a new and realigned political landscape.”

This idea of realigning politics to build a new majority around shared values – including reaching out to the reformers in the ruling party – has been a consistent DA message. The claim in the Sunday Times article that the DA has long been opposed to any such co-operation is simply not true and seeks to create the impression that this has somehow changed under Steenhuisen’s leadership. It also needs to be corrected.

From the recording of the interview, it is clear that Steenhuisen’s answers were not accurately reflected in these parts of the article. His answers stated that the DA intends to be the strong party of a new, realigned majority built around shared values. It intends to be the bulwark against the creep of the radical left in the guise of the ANC’s RET faction and the EFF, who have already launched their fightback campaign. It intends to give a voice to the excluded and marginalised, and break the insider/outsider economy. And it has no intention of strengthening one faction of the ANC over the other.

It is unfortunate that a few lines in the Sunday Times article, introduced as clickbait, have been allowed to dilute this message.

DA welcomes Independent Review Panel findings on PP removal proceedings

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the finding by the Independent Review Panel that there is a prima facie case for Parliament to institute removal proceedings against the Public Protector, Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

We are pleased by these findings and urge Parliament to institute the removal proceedings against Mkhwebane without delay.

During her tenure as Public Protector, the Courts have made damning findings against Mkhwebane, where her fitness to hold this vital post has been called into question numerous times.

  • The Constitutional Court found that she acted in bad faith and was not honest with the High Court regarding her investigation process in the Reserve Bank matter.
  • She laid criminal charges against former Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, for releasing a transcript of an interview she had with former President Jacob Zuma.
  • Her appeal to overturn Judge Ronel Tolmay’s scathing judgment of her poor handling of the Estina Dairy Farm matter and the report thereof, was dismissed by the North Gauteng High Court.

Her independence and credibility have also been called into questions on a number of occasions and she has failed to inspire trust within the public.

The DA believes that it is of the utmost importance that Mkhwebane be removed as Public Protector and that someone competent, credible and independent is appointed in this post to regain the public’s trust in this crucial Chapter 9 institution and to ensure that once again the interests of the vulnerable would be protected above the interests of the politically connected.

Instead of a recycled newsletter, Ramaphosa owes South Africa an apology for cadre deployment

In his latest newsletter, President Cyril Ramaphosa recycles the same empty words he has used countless times before to declare his supposed commitment to building a professional public service. Unfortunately, his latest 900 word article is nearly identical to a newsletter he published more than a year ago.

On 21 January 2020, Ramaphosa declared himself “committed to end the practice of poorly qualified individuals being parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage”. Over a year later, he again complains that “all too often, people have been hired into and promoted to key positions for which they are neither suitable nor qualified”.

This begs several questions. Why has the President done absolutely nothing about this problem since he complained about it last year? And why does the President only ever moan and whinge, instead of taking concrete action?

But the most important part of Ramaphosa’s second-hand newsletter is the fact that he, once again, ignores the elephant in the room. All of the problems that the President is so fond of whining about results directly from a single ANC policy: cadre deployment.

Instead of constantly complaining like a powerless spectator on the side-lines, Ramaphosa would do well to be honest by admitting to South Africans that he helped cause the problem that he now whinges about. Between 2013 and 2017, none other than Cyril Ramaphosa was the chairman of the ANC’s cadre deployment committee that – in his own words – “hired and promoted [people] to key positions for which they are neither suitable nor qualified”.

The truth is that Cyril Ramaphosa owes South Africa an apology for the role he played, as the head of the ANC’s cadre deployment committee, in appointing everyone from Hlaudi Motsoeneng to Brian Molefe into positions of power. Again, in his own words, it is the people whom Ramaphosa “parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage” that destroyed the South African state.

Fortunately, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has already provided Ramaphosa with a golden opportunity to apologise to the nation when he eventually appears at the Zondo Commission. A month ago, we submitted a detailed set of questions to the Zondo Commission, which Ramaphosa must answer to account for his role in cadre deployment. By submitting a request to the ANC under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to obtain full records of all cadre deployment decisions taken while Ramaphosa was chairman of the cadre deployment committee, the DA has created a further opportunity for Ramaphosa to be honest with the people.

Instead of obfuscating, we hope that he will use these opportunities to unreservedly apologise for his role in enabling state capture through cadre deployment.

After offering our country a long overdue apology, Ramaphosa must make amends for his sins by helping the DA outlaw the evil practice of cadre deployment. The DA has already extended to the President an opportunity to repent by turning his hollow words into concrete action. That is why we have sent him a copy of the End Cadre Deployment Bill that took us over a year to develop. Because the DA cares more about our country than about narrow politics, we have requested Ramaphosa to submit the End Cadre Deployment Bill in his own party’s name if that will secure ANC support for this critical reform. Sadly, the President has not yet felt the need to respond. (Please find attached a copy of the email sent to Ramaphosa).

The DA has also already submitted our objection to the failure of the Draft Framework on the Professionalisation of the Public Service, which Ramaphosa praises in his recycled newsletter, to even mention cadre deployment. Out of apparent desperation to protect Ramaphosa from accountability for his role as head of cadre deployment, the document does not make even one reference to cadre deployment. In contrast, in our submission, that DA makes it clear that:

Similar to Shaka’s famous bull horn formation, we need a decisive pincer movement against incompetence and corruption in the public service. The one horn must be designed to prevent incompetents from being appointed in the first place by outlawing and uprooting cadre deployment. And the other horn must ensure that looters and thieves are swiftly punished by a Public Service Commission (PSC) that is more independent and has significantly enhanced powers to take remedial action. (Please find attached a copy of the DA’s full submission on the Draft Framework).

Like millions of South Africans, the DA is getting very tired of a President that spends his days complaining about problems that he helped cause. We have given him the End Cadre Deployment Bill on a silver platter as an opportunity to atone for his sins. But South Africa’s time – like the patience of its people – is fast running out.

R6.5 million salary for CEO of failed Housing Development Agency

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will today write to the Auditor General in terms of S5(d) of the Public Audit Act, requesting a special audit and investigation into the affairs of the Housing Development Agency (HDA).

This after the 2019/2020 Annual Report, due to serve before the Housing Portfolio Committee tomorrow, has confirmed the DA’s on-going warnings that the entity is in extreme crisis.

Prior to the start of the reporting year, the Entity had twice been placed under the care of Administrators.

The entity was again placed under Administration in September and was without an Administrator or a Board between July and September.

During the same year, the entity had three acting Chief Executive Officers (CEO’s) while the full time CEO, Mr P Moloi, earned an annual salary of R6.5 million – an increase of R2.25 million from the previous year.

Two acting Chief Financial Officers (CFO’s) managed the entity’s finances, followed by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s executive appointment of SASSA scandal embroiled, Brian Mosehla, whom she subsequently fired.

Nkululeko Poya, who resigned as CEO of the Rail Safety Regulator after facing 14 charges including gross misconduct, abuse of power and dishonesty, was also appointed as the Chief Operating Officer of the Entity.

While the entity boasts a budget of just over 1% of the Department of Human Settlement’s total allocation for the year, section Heads at the entity are earning up to R2.8 million – more than the Minister herself.

131 886 000 was recorded in irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, up from R 109 430 000 in the previous year.

R4.3 million was paid in performance rewards.

The audit report also noted that:

  • There were no adequate systems for identifying irregular expenditure
  • Payments were made against unknown receipts
  • Overpayments were made for work not performed
  • Work was done without agreements in place with other departments
  • Contracts were awarded to suppliers whose tax matters had not been declared
  • Contracts were extended or modified without the approval of a delegated official
  • Financial statements were not prepared in accordance with the prescribed financial reporting framework

It is clear from the audit report that the HDA’s executive management and Board may indeed be liable for gross financial negligence.

The DA will further request that in line with the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, Minister Sisulu be summoned to Parliament to present full details of all disciplinary processes arising from the repeated irregular expenditure incurred by this failed entity.

The situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.