Premier David Makhura,
Today this house meets to debate the budget allocated to the office of the Premier. As we do so, the latest unemployment statistics paint a bleak picture for our residents of Gauteng. Currently there are just over 34% of Gauteng residents who are sitting at home unemployed, and it is not for a lack of trying to find gainful employment. The current pandemic has made the task of seeking employment even more difficult, with regulations cutting trading times for businesses and restricting movement of individuals.
Critical job skills training under the Tsepo1Million and Thint’iMillion programme did not take place during the 3rd and 4th quarter of the previous financial year because this government was unable to implement and put in proper social distancing methods so that these valuable training programmes could continue. These programmes would have equipped the youth by giving them much needed skills and given them an important boost in finding employment under this current and challenging climate. Many of those who go through similar skills development programmes are able to start their own businesses and have the capability to pass on skills they have learnt to other unemployed youth in their immediate communities.
Failure by the Gauteng Provincial Government to create a conducive environment for both foreign and private investment to flourish in the province is holding back our economy from growing and preventing the unemployment rate from coming down. Madam Speaker, we can no longer use Covid-19 as an excuse for government not meeting their job creation goals, and skills development goals on an ongoing basis, especially when our taxpayers’ hard-earned money is at stake here.
During a recent oversight to an Industrial Hub in Pennyville, Soweto where furniture is manufactured, one of the complaints I received during my interaction with the tenants of the hub was that they are not able to directly pitch for tenders for government, but instead have to rely on bigger furniture manufacturing companies to give them a portion of the tender, yet the work they produce is of better quality. This narrative is not new. In many cases small businesses like the one we visited are constantly overlooked by government, yet we have an entire policy dedicated to the revitalisation of townships and the economy. If we want to energise township economies, this government has to start empowering smaller businesses and enterprises.
For example, the employment of five people by one of these businesses does not mean the empowerment of only five people, but possibly of five households with many other dependents. But if this business fails to get any work from government, these many dependents are left without food on their table, no money for primary, secondary or tertiary education, and no money for transport to seek work opportunities. The only way in which government can help township businesses to flourish is by cutting the red tape and making tenders accessible to them so that they are no longer reliant on a middleman or subcontracting.
During the hard lockdown last year, informal traders who were trying to make ends meet, had their fresh produce confiscated by this government because they were not adhering to the lockdown regulations. Was it really necessary to confiscate their livelihood because of a lockdown regulation violation? Why couldn’t the law enforcement just indicate to the informal trader of what they were doing wrong and request them to adhere to the rules? Instead of this government assisting our informal traders to keep food on the table, they were being unfairly punished. This was an ideal opportunity for the office of the Premier to fully embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution and help our informal economy move into the formal economy space and embrace technology.
Premier, Madam Speaker this was extremely disheartening to hear given that every year during the annual State of the Province Address (SOPA) a considerable amount of time is spent on how this province will be concentrating its focus on the township economy so that businesses in the township can grow and employ more people.
Special Economic Zones is another key driver of our economy and one that can be put to good use to drive employment opportunities. The Tshwane Automotive hub is a prime example of this. Here, 8600 short term jobs have been created for the people of Tshwane with a further 2000 direct jobs that will be created through this hub to alleviate poverty and help our residents put food on their tables. This is not a handout but a tangible effort by the DA-led government of Tshwane to ensure that our residents are given a hand up so that they are able to dig themselves out of the trenches of poverty. The time for talking about these specialised zones needs to end. We need action now. Not tomorrow or the day after.
Another key driver of the economy in Gauteng is transport. It is a cost-efficient way to transport goods from one province to another. But sadly, in Gauteng it is more expensive because of e-Tolls. Businesses who have trucks transporting goods through the province have to fork out additional taxes for e-Tolls, where this additional cost is now simply passed on to the consumer. Since the inception of e-Tolls in 2013, the DA has been opposed to its implementation. We have offered various solutions one of which was to use a portion of the fuel levy to supplement the costs of road infrastructure. The DA has also requested the Premier to lodge an intergovernmental dispute with national government on this matter. We still wait to see any action on this matter.
Instead, the e-Toll saga has now been used as voting fodder ahead of the 2021 local government elections. Voters are now told that a solution to e-Tolls is imminent- something which we heard in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
It is 2021 now and the same thing has been said about e-Tolls. We even recently had the MEC of Transport, Jacob Mamabolo go onto SAFM and say that for all intense and purposes e-Tolls has been scrapped only to retract this comment and say that they are against e-Tolls.
When can we expect an announcement on this? Will a debt write off for historical e-Toll debt be included in this? Our residents have had this unfair tolling system foisted upon them with no proper consultation and cannot make ends meet with their already limited earnings. To make matters worse, a portion of this now has to go to e-Tolls.
We are firmly in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the province. Just yesterday the number of infections stood at just 17000. This is of great concern. The pace of vaccinations in the country and the province is slow. This is something that needs to be addressed. Come 26 July, children are scheduled to go back to school on a daily basis and rotational teaching and learning will end for primary school children. Our concern is that since the country moved to Lockdown Alert Level 1 early this year, the daily Covid-19 call between Caucus Leaders in the Legislature and the Premier have not resumed. We no longer receive the critical updates that are needed so that we can provide practical solutions to help prevent or overcome any stumbling blocks that may occur in hospitals and at vaccinations sites.
The Gauteng Health Department has officially recorded 10 770 deaths from Covid-19 but acknowledges that this is only about 42% of the excess deaths figure that is estimated by the SA Medical Research Council which is of great concern to the DA. We need accurate figures of exactly how many Covid-19 deaths have occurred in the province and exactly how many people are infected. The public has to be given accurate information at all times. Our government hospitals resources are already constrained without a pandemic so it is important now more than ever that Premier Makhura is transparent about what is needed and how we can all work together as political parties to ensure that adequate resources are provided to hospitals and that loss of life is kept to a minimum.
What we need to do now Madam Speaker, is to work together with government to find solutions to the problems our government is faced with. The only way in which we can do this if we start meeting regularly as caucus leaders to discuss the new trends in the Covid-19 pandemic, use our portfolio committee meetings to discuss tangible solutions to our unemployment rate in the province and a solution to e-Tolls in the province, so that we are able to provide a better tomorrow for all our people in the province.
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