Honourable Madam Speaker Ntombi Mekgwe
Honourable Madam Deputy Speaker Nomvuyo Mhlakaza-Manamela
Honourable Premier David Makhura
Honourable Members of the Gauteng Executive Council
Members of the Media
The Gauteng Citizenry
Honourable Speaker, this year’s State of the Province Address (SOPA) was none like we have ever experienced before. That is because it took place under the unprecedented ‘new normal’ conditions, superimposed on us by the continued prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The devastation caused by the pandemic, along with its economic and social restrictions, is not lost to us as the citizens of this province. Since the arrival of this disease, not a single day has passed without the pronouncement of its casualties: be it losing productive economic activity or worse, the loss of human life.
The pandemic has only expounded the socio-economic woes, which the ruling party failed to address way before the novel COVID-19 virus arrived. Specifically, challenges such as youth unemployment, poverty, inequality, gender-based violence and corruption have become ever so glaring in our society.
It is worth noting that just as the Honourable Premier was delivering the SOPA on Tuesday, so too did the Statistics SA also release the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey results. They revealed that official unemployment reached a new peak of 32.5%, meaning that an additional 701 000 people are without jobs in the last quarter of 2020. The Premier himself has told us that around 42% of small businesses have shut their doors without a prospect of ever re-opening.
Honourable Speaker, unfortunately, all of this implies that the chances of creating much needed employment, poverty and inequality eradication remain bleak.
That is the unfortunate reality, and we all must face and accept. It is the reality of the new normal and the challenge of governing under difficult circumstances.
Considering the prevailing difficult circumstances, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) welcomes the Premier’s sober-minded approach to focus on four priorities as reflected in this year’s SOPA.
Unlike the previous SOPAs which gave us a litany of impractical and unimplementable grand plans, this year’s SOPA indicated some promise of action around the set priorities. However, as the saying goes: the devil lies in the detail. It is this detail, in terms of communicating how the plans will be implemented and the timelines thereof, which the Premier fell short of providing when delivering his address on Tuesday.
Our view is that concentration on limited priorities gives a better chance at addressing some critical challenges that many of our citizens face at this present moment.
For instance, the IFP fully welcomes and supports the government’s prioritization of the fight against COVID-19 and the plans to vaccinate 67% of Gauteng’s citizens.
We are however concerned by the lack of information on how the Honourable Premier plans to address the recurrent inefficiencies within our public hospitals.
Just last week we heard of news reports where some medical health workers were denied their scheduled vaccinations at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital. Such news does not inspire public confidence that government is ready and able to deliver on its promises to vaccine over 10 million people by the end of this year.
The goal of building resilient capacities in our health institutions to cope with any future pandemics and disasters in Gauteng needs more than just a plan to procure more beds into our hospitals. The realization of this noble goal calls for effective management and improved patient care at our public hospitals. With that said, the creation and filling of 4992 public health vacancies between April 2020 and January 2021 are commendable.
On revitalizing the Gauteng economy, the Premier says that his administration is taking the lead in implementing President Ramaphosa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. But beyond the pledges of billions of investments from the private sector, there is nothing tangible to show from this Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. Save for the Ford Motor Company’s announcement of investment in the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone in February last year, the promise of new projects scheduled to kick-off in the 2019/20 financial year is yet to be fulfilled.
Much has been said on expediting the approval of Special Economic Zones in other parts of Gauteng, but this has not been backed by the necessary speed in implementation. We can say the same about the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill, which aimed at revitalizing the township economy for the benefit of local citizens who have waited much too long for inclusion into the mainstream economy.
The passing of the Township Economic Development Bill has the potential to aid the economic recovery strategy, as it will transform Gauteng’s township area economies into productive centres that provide employment and enhancing the living conditions of citizens. As the IFP, we look forward to tabling of this bill before this house come April.
Honourable Speaker, the IFP has welcomed the Premier’s prioritization which considers the recalibration of social policy to improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable sections of the population against urban poverty and hunger, amongst others. This could not have come at a more appropriate time than now, as there are 3 million Gauteng residents that currently live below the poverty line. This number is at risk of increasing because of the impact of the pandemic.
However, we also emphasize that welfare social policy interventions should not be a substitute for the real empowerment of citizens. Citizens need to be empowered to be self-reliant and determine the trajectory of their future. Besides providing quality education and healthcare, the government must provide an enabling business and job creation environment where processes of establishing businesses and accessing finance are easier and seamless for future entrepreneurs.
The Honorable Premier has also chosen to prioritize what he termed as “improving governance across Gauteng and improving the quality of life of residents as well as enhancing ethics, integrity and accountability.” In simpler terms, he talks of the fight against corruption. I dare say, the people of Gauteng want less talk about actions to be taken against corruption than they want to see it happening. Too much time has been wasted by the Premier talking tough about the need for consequence management, but his administration has not walked that talk.
The shame brought about by the Gauteng COVID-19 PPE scandals should compel this government to act decisively and swiftly against all forms of corruption. One of the biggest lessons in the fight against the COVID-19 has been that pandemics leave no room for complacency, and so too does the pandemic of corruption. I thank you.