Debate on the State of the Nation speech by the UDM President in the National Assembly (07 January 2006)

Madam Speaker, Honourable President, Honourable Members,

The points you have raised, Mr President, are generally favourable, if unsurprising. We support many of the initiatives you have spoken of and we would be contradicting ourselves if we were to say otherwise. We have called for the government to do more, and thus responsible interventions on land, skills and infrastructure are welcomed. South Africa must build its own economy utilising its own resources and thus avoid being dictated to by outside forces that flood our markets. The UDM also supports your position on Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology for peaceful means. It is high time that the UN, in particular the Security Council, realised that if they want to succeed with the non-proliferation agenda they should be even-handed. It is hypocritical for the Security Council to do little about the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, North Korea and even Israel and their nuclear warfare capability, but to isolate one country which insists that is only pursuing peaceful nuclear use.

Last year the honourable Minister of Finance announced R370 billion in the Mid Term Budget Statement for infrastructure projects. Then the ANC "8 January" statement spoke of R400 billion for local government infrastructure development. And yesterday the honourable Deputy President announced that R372 billion in spending would underpin the ASGISA initiative. Any reasonable South African would have noted these announcements over the past six months and felt optimistic that so many thousands of billions of our taxpayer money is being ploughed back into the community. I would appreciate it if the honourable President could clarify in his response whether all of these are separate amounts for separate programmes, or whether this is the same amount that is being talked about every time.

Mine today would be to contribute to two specific issues that I believe would improve the benefits that the democratic state should be providing to all of its citizens.

Madam Speaker, the honourable President has spoken of an Age of Hope, and yes, many South Africans are optimistic about the future, but that hope is a fragile thing that is regularly dented and undermined by embarrassing incidents.

The first specific issue that needs attention is the different kind of community protest with underlying party political tones which we are seeing with increasing regularity. These protests give expression to internal tripartite alliance squabbles.

This constitutes a broader threat to our democracy, emanating from within the ruling party and alliance, and it is an undeniable feature of the State of the Nation. Indeed, I can say without fear of contradiction that it formed the basis of the most sustained and prominent public debate of the past year.

Quite naturally, the ruling party would not want us to discuss this matter. But it is not we in the opposition that have decided to wash our dirty linen in public. It is not us that have embroiled the upper echelons of the state intelligence and other state departments in an unseemly struggle for power. These matters affect the State of the Nation like few other matters do at the moment.

For instance, in the Eastern Cape in the last couple of years we have witnessed how these political undertones and divisions have affected the provincial government and service delivery. If a premier comes into power the cabinet and senior administrators who are viewed as loyal to the previous administration are purged, thereby destroying continuity and management experience. Similarly there are those from the old administration who remain behind purely to undermine the efforts of the new administration. These divisions have threatened the stability of government, like the example of the ANC councillors in Qaukeni Municipality that shot each other in the municipal offices. Or the well-documented role of the ruling party's alliance partner, the SACP, in Khutsong. Who would have thought that a decade into democracy - when no-go areas operated by political parties had finally become a thing of the past - that there would be areas where you cannot put up election posters, including even the ruling party itself? Who would have thought that this resistance to democracy would be led by a ruling party alliance partner?

The SACP needs to be reminded that they have never had the guts to fight an election on their own. If they want to ride the coat-tails of the ANC, that is their right. And if the ANC doesn't mind the burden of dragging them and their other alliance partners along, that is also their full right. The ANC must handle its alliance arrangements as it sees fit, but it cannot forget that it is the party with the mandate of the voters and it should deliver to them and not be held to ransom by its alliance partners.

I am referring here to more than the local protests that they have fomented. Members of the ruling alliance have taken their internal squabbles and campaigns into the civil service and disrupted the work of key institutions of the state. They have openly campaigned against independent institutions of the democratic state and they have even vilified the judiciary for daring to remark upon the behaviour of their political darling.

And these embarrassing incidents continue to happen. Just recently another election-shy coat-tail surfer of the ANC, SANCO, was advocating the amendment of the Constitution to allow a third term of office for the honourable President. For now, that debate has been quashed by the honourable President, who said that the ANC would respect the Constitution.

Madam Speaker, we still need to address this issue because it throws up a very important issue for the citizens of this country that goes far wider than ANC internal power struggles.

This question keeps cropping up because those in the ruling alliance are concerned about who the honourable President's successor will be. But why should this be solely their concern?

Has the time not arrived for all South Africans, and not just the most powerful faction in the ANC, to decide who their President will be?
Madam Speaker, what if the next incumbent does not feel the same as the honourable President and decides to pursue three or more terms in office? I would appeal to the honourable President to use his influence to ensure that electoral reform occurs. Not only do we need to pursue the recommendations of the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission to increase the accountability of public representatives, but we should also allow South Africans to choose and hold accountable their own President in separately held elections.

Madam Speaker, the second issue is that I believe there are more specific measures that can be taken to address the underlying reasons of poor service delivery that inspired the violent protests that have taken place in many poor communities across the country in the past two years.

Some of the frustration that is being expressed is that the very administration created by the new democratic state, especially the provinces and the new local governments have become obstacles to, instead of agents of, service delivery.

Indeed, many reasons for the failures in service delivery have been advanced, but the solutions offered do not seem to be on the same scale as the challenges. The Provinces are failing to correctly spend their budgets, whilst the majority of local councils are in a state of bankruptcy, short on skills and management.

Big problems require bold and far-reaching solutions. The UDM would recommend that there should be a plan to integrate some of the responsibilities of provincial and local governments so that we minimise overlapping and better use the available skills and resources. Such a step would reduce an inefficient and wasteful administration, whilst freeing up the skills, personnel and resources that can resuscitate and strengthen local government and local service delivery.

I hope the suggestions on these two broad areas will find a favourable hearing.

I thank you.

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