Chairperson of the NCOP,
Honourable Members of the House,
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I would like to thank you most sincerely for the opportunity you have given us to come to this important House of our National Legislature.
As has been said, this is the first time we have the possibility to interact with the National Council of Provinces since the new government was formed in June.
I would therefore like to take this opportunity, belated as it may be, to extend our congratulations to all the Honourable Members on their election into this House.
My congratulations also go to you, Hon Chairperson, your Deputy and other officials charged with the responsibility to lead and manage the important business of the Council.
I am also pleased to share this day with our Premiers, to whom we extend our best wishes for success in the discharge of the heavy responsibilities that fall on their shoulders.
Our democracy is five years old.
It is my firm view that, during this period, we have worked well together, to establish and consolidate the base which must enable us, as a country ad as a people, to move forward faster towards the creation of the better life for all, to which all right thinking people in our country are committed.
We have established the necessary policy base. Where necessary, we have given force to this policy by passing the appropriate statutes and building the required institutions.
And most important, because of the experience we have accumulated over these past five years, we must surely be wiser now than we were five years ago, and therefore better able to respond to the continuing and pressing challenge of the reconstruction and development of our country.
The Honourable Members will be familiar with the remarks we made on behalf of the national government when the new parliament opened on the 25th of June.
I trust that you also had access to the report to the National Assembly and the Country, which our Deputy President, the Hon Jacob Zuma, presented at the National Assembly on the 2nd of September.
In his presentation, the Deputy President gave a report on the progress achieved and the problems experienced in the implementation of the programme of action we announced on June 25.
I am certain that from these presentations, at the end of June and the beginning of September, you will have seen that, as the national government, we are determined that we should use the policy, statutory and institutional base which this House helped to create in the last five years, to push forward, with determination, the project of a better life for all our people.
The burden of our argument in this House today remains the same. That argument is that this House must ask itself and answer the question -- what can the NCOP do further to promote the project of the provision of a better life for all our people!
I have no doubt that you have already posed this question to yourselves and provided the necessary answers.
Nevertheless, we must continue to ask whether the question has been tabled and the answers given. This is because so great are the challenges of transformation we all face, that we do not have the possibility to rest on our laurels.
We must ask ourselves the question everyday -- what have we done to move ourselves forward!
It was in this context that a fortnight ago, on October 15th, I was privileged to participate in a meeting of all our Premiers, as well as our Minister of Provincial and Local Government.
For the first time, we met in this forum, together to look at the two important questions.
You will recall that recently, in the Budget Policy Statement, the Minister of Finance indicated that there is an encouraging movement towards sound and effective management of provincial budgets.
Naturally, we are pleased that our provincial administrations are getting on top of the challenges of proper financial management.
It is important that we continue to improve our control measures and ensure that the emerging financial stability endures, at the same time as we remind all levels of government and especially the provinces, tha the efficient handling of resources must go hand in hand with effective delivery of services to the people.
The necessity cannot be over-emphasized to build capacity for improved all-round service delivery as well as proper control of and accountability for public finances, in keeping with the Public Finance Management Act.
As we have said before, the misuse of public funds is a serious crime that must always be dealt with severely.
Accordingly, we do not want people in the public service who see the government as a get-rich-quick fat cow to be milked.
At the same time we must make the point that we need public representatives who have a sense of responsibiility towards their constituencies. We speak of representatives, who should always be available to the people they serve, who respond at all times to the concerns of our communities.
It is bad and unacceptable to engage our people only when there is a crisis or only during the elections. Our people deserve better and should not to be tossed from pilar to post by the very people they have put into positions of power.
We are certain that if our elected representatives, in all the spheres of governance maintain close contact with the people, they will themselves contribute significantly to the achievement of the national objective of accelerating the improvement of the quality of life of the people, by properly discharging their oversight function over the executive authorities in all spheres of government.
All of us are aware of the challenges facing Local Government. As natioal government, we have noted the interventions that had to be made, in terms of Section 139 of the Constitution, in such municipal areas as Butterworth, Warrenton, Wedela, Ogies, Sunnieshof and Nouwpoort.
Based on the reports on the NCOP, it appears that the affected towns are not economically viable. One of the challenges we all face is to put the necessary mechanisms in place so that the capacity, administrative and management skills, of both the officials and public representatives in these areas, is raised to the required level to enable the municipalities to facilitate service delivery and promote the development of the local people.
The Municipal Systems Bill that will be tabled in this House soon, provides the tools for capacity building for effective administration at the local government level.
All of us, in this House and at different levels of goverment as well as in communities, should monitor closely the course that this development takes and participate actively to influece it so that, in the end, the necessary instruments are provided for better service delivery to our people.
Government needs to establish early warning systems. These would enable all of us to monitor the performance of municipalities and remain alive to any problems and potential disruptions to development and service delivery, so as to forestall the collapses that have occurred as in the municipalities to which we referred.
It is in this context that the Ministry of Provincial and Local Government has been charged with the responsibility of accelerated development, the strengthening of the institutions of governance and enhancing the quality of service delivery.
It is the responsibility of the entire government to ensure that we also ensure that the provincial government sphere also has the necessary capacity to fulfill its assigned functions, which must include the building of a developmental local government system and integrating the institutions of traditional leadership into the overall system of governance so that our people, in every corner of our country, are not spectators of transformation but are themselves masters of the process.
Our starting point should be that we create a decentralised and integrated delivery system in such a way that we prevent the problems that necessitate Section 139 interventions from time to time.
Of course, an integrated development planning system at both provincial and municipal level will be critical to improve integrated governance and service delivery. This will require that policy formulation is also sufficiently integrated.
The demarcation process that is underway will pave the way for local government elections and sustainable local governance. For one, district councils will become important nodal points for coordinating planning and delivery. One of the consequences of the demarcation process will be the emergence of cross-boundary municipalities. For these types of municipalities to work, it wil be incumbent on provinces to approach them with sensitivity and deep political astuteness.
As the Honourable Members are aware, the Demarcation Board is also working with all departments of government to align their administrative boundaries with those of municipalities.
I am certain we would all agree that the Board is not wrong when it says that it hopes that by early 2000, a rational geographic system of governance will be in place, the alignment having taken place of magisterial, health, police and all other districts.
As we have said already, the Honourable Members will be familiar with the report the Deputy President gave at the beginning of last month on work being done to carry out the programme of action the national government announced at the opening of parliament.
As you will recall, that programme included such important issues as integrated rural development, urban renewal, combating crime and corruption, improving the quality of our system of education and training, accelerating economic growth and development and job creation, and so on.
Suffice it for me to say that this work continues, demanding, among other things, greater coordination and joint action between national, provincial and local government that we have achieved in the past.
It is my sincere wish that we see, as soon as possible, all these spheres of government in action, working together with the people, giving real impetus to our common drive towards a better life for all.
To close, let me make a few remarks about two issues that are at the very heart of our quest for the humane and caring society of which we have spoken before.
I refer here to the issues of rape and HIV-AIDS. Very correctly, just over a month ago, this House debated the question of violence against and the rape of women and children.
We noted the resolution that emerged from that discussion, supported by al the provinces, political parties and all members of the Council, condemning these completely unacceptable acts of violence and calling for consistent and severe sentences against all perpetrators of such heinous crimes.
The approach adopted by the NCOP on this and other matters is constructive and in keeping with the sense of outrage that violent crimes invoke in our communities. As a people whose struggle and sacrifice defeated one of the most pernicious systems of our time, we can and must wipe out of our communities this scourge of violence and abuse of our people.
One rape that occurs is a rape too many. Through our concerted action, we must make this clear to all who carry out this terrible crime.
Accordingly, it is unnecessary and counter-productive for anybody to propagate untruth about the incidence of this crime in our country.
For example, in 1997 the South African Police Service published statistics alleging than only 1 rape out of 36 was reported. Whereas the number of rapes actually reported that year was just over 52 000, an extrapolation was then made that on the basis of the estimate of the extent of under-reporting, over 1,8 million rapes had in fact occurred.
You will be as surprised as I was to learn that in the fact the SAPS itself does not know what the estimate of 1 out of 36 was based upon. They can offer no explanation as to how they decided to publish figures which they cannot substantiate in any way whatseoever.
The tragedy is that many of us have taken these purely speculative figures as fact. Clearly, this will not help us properly to fight against the terrible crime of rape as we cannot base our actions on untruths.
Similarly, we are confronted with the scourge of HIV-AIDS against which we must leave no stone unturned to save ourselves from the catastrophe which this disease poses.
Concerned to respond appropriately to this threat, many in our country have called on the Government to make the drug AZT availabe in ou public health system.
Two matters in this regard have been brought to our attention. One of these is that there are legal cases pending in this country, the United Kingdom and the United States against AZT on the basis that this drug is harmful to health.
There also exists a large volume of scientific literature alleging that, among other things, the toxicity of this drug is such that it is in fact a danger to health.
These are matters of great concern to the Government as it would be irresponsible for us not to head the dire warnings which medical researchers have been making.
I have therefore asked the Minister of Health, as a matter of urgency, to go into all these matters so that, to the extent that is possible, we ourselves, including our country's medical authorities, are certain of where the truth lies.
To understand this matter better, I would urge the Honourable Members of the National Council to access the huge volume of literature on this matter available on the Internet, so that all of us can approach this issue from the same base of information.
The confidence and hope among our people that we will succeed to move further forward towards a better life for all are very high. We, as the elected representatives of these masses must ensure that we do not disappoint their expectations.