INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH

February 6, 1998

COSATU has noted the contents of President Mandela's speech presented in parliament this morning, and intends analysing it in detail. This statement therefore constitutes an initial response to some of the most salient points, and is not intended to be comprehensive.

The tone of the speech is strongly focussed on improving the quality of life of our people, particularly the working poor. The President's commitment to concrete programmes which speed up the provision of basic infrastructure and services to the majority, is welcome. In particular the commitment by the state to extend the provision of public health care, electricity, housing, water, telecommunications, education, and social welfare, including old age pensions. The President has given a clear indication that the government does not intend to leave the provision of these critical areas to the vagaries of the market, but that the state will have to play the pivotal role in this regard.

Also welcome is the President's statement that government will not allow an obsession with macro-economic percentages, or fractions of percentages, to frustrate policies of delivery. He has also reiterated his view that restructuring of state assets will not be determined by ideologically-driven privatisation. Indeed the President has indicated the intention to create public corporations in certain strategic areas.

COSATU welcome the President's support of measures to transform the apartheid workplace, in particular the introduction of employment equity legislation to address historical inequities. We support his view that minority parties are being irresponsible in attempting to whip up fears around affirmative action.

We support his call to business to put the needs of the country first, to invest in the economy and our people, and to prioritise the issue of job creation. To this end COSATU is committed to putting forward constructive proposals into the Presidential Jobs Summit, and detailed work is currently being undertaken in this regard.

We also fully support the Presidents's campaign against corruption, and for moral regeneration, both in the public and private sectors.

On the international front, COSATU welcomes the statements which signal the President's intention to raise issues of world poverty sharply in various forums. In particular the commitment to place questions relating to globalisation, and an alternative approach to international trade relations, finances and debt, on the agenda of the Non Aligned Movement Conference to be held in South Africa this year, as well as organs of the United Nations.

Approach to the Restructuring of the Public Service

The President stated the need to save resources and restructure the public service. COSATU has noted the President's commitment that public sector restructuring will be done within the ambit of the labour law, and that this will be done in a way that is sensitive to the situation of unemployment. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the current approach to restructuring may have the opposite effect of what is intended.

COSATU agrees with the view that we have inherited a dysfunctional state that needs to be restructured, to act as an effective agent of transformation. We are of the view, however, that restructuring, particularly of public sector staffing levels, needs to be done in a way which enhances service delivery and transformation, rather than retarding it. There should not be a mechanical approach to retrenchments which, for example, may lead to more clinics and schools, with fewer nurses and teachers to staff them. The victims of such retrenchments would precisely be such public sector workers engaged in service delivery, and poor communities; and not the apartheid-era bureaucrats who are soaking up public money. COSATU would strongly oppose a mechanical approach to retrenchments, together with our public sector unions.

The question of staffing of the public service needs to be directly related to the question of whether staffing matches the actual delivery needs in any area. Historically the apartheid state overgoverned the majority, but chronically underserviced them. Where there is understaffing in critical areas of delivery, there needs to be an actual expansion of personnel, or upsizing Where a bloated bureaucracy exists, however, this clearly needs to be cut back, or downsized.. There is still an absence of accurate data on the staff profile of the public service and an audit, identifying areas of wastage has yet to be done.

COSATU calls for a National Framework Agreement on Restructuring the Public Service between government and labour based on accurate and reliable data as well as a commitment to a policy of right-sizing, rather than mechanical downsizing.

We believe that in line with the decision taken at the Alliance Summit last year, a task team under the leadership of the Deputy President should urgently be set up, to look at restructuring the public service as an effective agent of delivery. The Alliance Task Team should, amongst other things agree on a process to expedite the proposed National Framework Agreement, based on the principles outlined above.

Nowetu Mpati COSATU Head of Communications