Hon. Chairperson, Hon. Z. Cele and Hon. Members; on behalf of Inkatha Freedom Party, I contribute to today’s Debate with a very heavy heart.
MASSIVE NATIONAL BUDGET CUTS FRUITS OF GOVERNMENT FAILURE
Hon. Speaker and Hon. Members; what causes my heavy heart is that the Department of Public Works – just like all Departments, entities, and this Legislature – finds itself having to grapple with crippling budget cuts – one of the mechanisms the national government ordered the country to embark on.
As the IFP we totally support all measures to curb unnecessary expenses. However, our support of such measures does not blind us to the fact that we are in this mess because of a government that wasted billions in tax-payers’ money on blind cadre deployment, fraud, corruption and state capture, all of which have ruined South Africa, including KwaZulu-Natal; and the country is almost bankrupt.
TAX-PAYERS’ MONEY WASTED IN RENTS AND PARLIAMENT PRECINCT
But despite this, political short-sightedness caused by blind adherence to the anti-Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi agenda, still propels this Provincial Government, through this Department, to persist in spending billions in tax-payers’ money in building what is called a Parliamentary Precinct in this city. They persist while they know very well that there are empty parliamentary and government offices, which remain lying fallow, in Ulundi. They are still determined to fulfil the political blunder of 2004, when politics gone mad was demonstrated in the DA-ANC unholy alliance, which uprooted the Legislature and government from Ulundi to Pietermaritzburg. They hoodwinked our people into believing that there was space here in Pietermaritzburg for the whole government and Legislature.
Instead, from about 2003, this government has been paying billions of rands of tax-payers’ money in renting office spaces almost all over this Province. We call this sheer wastefulness! The money wasted in this manner should instead be rescuing the destitute and the poor of our Province.
TAX-PAYERS’ MONEY DOES NOT BENEFIT THE POOREST
What is a political scandal is that since then, the billions of rands that the government has wasted to rent properties across KwaZulu-Natal, have not benefited the poorest of all, Africans as well as Coloured South Africans.
Statistics from the Department of Public Works show that there are 184 lease agreements. 82 of these contracts belong to Indian South Africans and yield R400 million. 41 belong to White South Africans; they yield R115 million. 15 belong to Africans; they yield R40 million. The multi-racial partners are collecting R79 million. Coloureds only have one contract.
Regarding government offices in Pietermaritzburg, the investigation revealed that about five people and companies were dominating the space.
When asked about this matter, the then MEC of Public Works and Human Settlements, the Hon. Neliswa Nkonyeni, responded thus: “The crisis started mainly in 2002 when the KwaZulu Government and the Legislature decided to make the provincial capital the city of Pietermaritzburg”. The Minister continued: “It is a disgrace that in 25 years of democracy there has been no change in the industry. We are not discriminating but we must acknowledge the fact that Indians and whites are the beneficiaries.” The only error in the former MEC’s response is that the KwaZulu Government no longer existed in 2002.
ABANDONMENT OF GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS
Hon. Chairperson; one of the core functions of this Department is “the maintenance of state buildings, including performing the necessary work to keep the required level of operation and the payment of property rates. (KwaZulu-Natal Province Treasury. Estimates of Provincial Revenue and Expenditure 2022/23. p.657)
But – amid budget cuts and rampant poverty and deprivation – when one drives around this Province one comes across government buildings that are dilapidated and lying fallow. Some have become the dens of criminals and scoundrels.
One primary cause of this is that this government decided to abandon many government-owned offices in areas like eThekwini. Hence they have become dilapidated lying fallow. Instead, this government opted to pay rent in office spaces owned by the private sector. One sore example of this is in Umlazi, where the building known as eMaweleni, which was built with the tax-payers’ money by the then KwaZulu Government, is abandoned and dilapidated. What is worse is that the abandonment of eMaweleni also caused the African poor to lose the sources of money, as they were forced to abandon their informal business enterprises, which they conducted in the stalls outside eMaweleni building. Undoubtedly, this government has thrown the poorest of the poor, the destitute and millions of our young men and women into the lions’ den.
However, Hon. Chairperson; fairness dictates that amid all these troubles, the Public Works Department is having to deal with client Departments, which behave nonchalantly towards fulfilling their responsibility to it.
The Public Works Department, out of patriotic eagerness to ensure speedy finalisation of projects, dips hands into its budget to pay for projects that are constructed on behalf of various Departments. But the Departments shy away from paying back the Department so that it will continue to fulfil its mandate. As our Portfolio Committee’s report indicates, “this compels Public Works to deviate and contravene legislation in terms of payments of service providers within 30 days. According to the AG’s report, Public Works reflects as non-compliant due to being owed by client departments.” And we know that deliberate inability to pay service providers within 30 days is tantamount to a crime.
EPW PROGRAMME MUST YIELD TANGIBLE RESULTS
The EPWP has a noble undertaking to provide unemployed people with work opportunities and training so that they increase their capacity to earn an income (p.659).
However, to ensure that this noble undertaking is achieved, there must be a clear outline of a programme that traces those trained through the EPWP beyond their training, to establish whether their lives have changed positively. Because we must be certain that the tax-payers’ money that is ploughed back to empower our people does effectively achieve the intended objectives.
The EPWP also has a programme to assist poor, non-fee-paying schools with basic maintenance of school grounds and buildings, to ensure that children can learn in conducive and clean environments (Ibid. p.659).
However, we would like to know how many of these schools receive this assistance and whether the maintenance of these schools does make the desired difference.
APPLAUSE TO MEC NTUTHUKO SIBIYA
I must express my appreciation to Hon. MEC Ntuthuko Sibiya for the fact that he really makes time for Portfolio Committee meetings. That is a sign of the MEC who understands the importance of the Portfolio Committee in assisting him and his Department. His conduct confirms his statement in his 2021/2022 Budget Vote, when he stated: “Critically, I appreciate guidance and constructive criticism from all you.”
In conclusion, the IFP supports this Budget and expects the Hon. MEC to ensure that it contributes to the broader call to rescue our people from the dungeon of poverty, unemployment, and hunger.