SOPA debate: A province on the verge of bankruptcy requires more than promises
6 March 2018
The Democratic Alliance was caught by surprise when the Premier used the catch phrase of “a government at work, available 24/7 to the people”. I have my doubts considering the failure to create sustainable jobs for our young people. This lack of substance and the utter frivolity with which the premier approaches serious matters actually make it easy to respond; it is like shooting fish in a barrel to point out how the provincial administration she leads consistently fails to implement the policies and plans she announces each year.
Ours is a province that in effect hovers on the verge of bankruptcy.
In addition to the closing deficit of more than R109.454 million, the province also recorded a bank overdraft of R351.787 million at the end of the previous financial year. If debt continues to rise at this rate, there will eventually be no money left to pay salaries and the result will be a completely dysfunctional provincial government. On top of this, accruals exceeding R623 million will have to be paid during this financial year – which means we will be using 2018’s money to settle 2017’s debts, leaving little for services in 2018.
This is in effect a financial crisis, and while I am sure MEC Mac Jack will elaborate on this during the provincial budget speech tomorrow, I am disappointed that the premier chose to remain silent on the province’s financial state, as this determines the very future of the Northern Cape.
We all know that accruals can have a crippling impact on provincial departments as well as on our struggling Northern Cape economy. The knock-on effect of businesses not being paid within 30 days is horrific. Later in my speech, I will address the effect that accruals have had on the quality of care on offer by the Health Department, but I must also stress that accruals also cause businesses to shut down and this obviously impacts negatively on jobs. This is a disturbing reality in the Northern Cape and it erases any progress in terms of stimulating job creation.
Reckless financial management must be stopped before services come to a devastating halt. I cannot emphasise enough that we need strong leadership, tightened internal controls, effective supply chain- and procurement management as well as disciplinary action taken against those responsible for financial mismanagement.
As an aside, it surpasses my understanding that the premier can speak about her administration’s anti-corruption stance when she simply plays politics with this critical issue. Her political aspirations motivated her to report her own Member of the Executive Council for Finance, Economic Development & Tourism to the Hawks for suspected mismanagement of the Economic Growth & Development Fund and used this as a premise to shuffle her cabinet. While there is definitely massive corruption and maladministration at that fund, the premier subsequently buckled under political pressure to reverse her reshuffle and still proudly retains the member she reported for corruption in her own cabinet. This illogical decision simply reinforces the belief shared amongst many people of this province that corruption will only be addressed when it is politically expedient to do so.
But I am not going to do just what the premier does. I am not going to be repetitive and tell the premier, like I did in years before, how she failed the province in her ‘State of the Promise’ address.
Instead, I am going to do what the premier should have done. I am going to look at the challenges facing our beautiful province, consider what has been done and provide a credible way forward for our people.
And in the spirit of being constructive, I wish to welcome the announcement that documents will now be made available in Braille.
This seemingly insignificant sentence in the premier’s speech holds significant potential to transform the lives of the blind community and it is indeed a step in the right direction to further protecting and advancing the rights of everybody in our society.
Considering the economic constraints prevalent in our society, the first priority for us as public representatives must be the establishment of an environment and economy which is conducive for the sustained creation of sustainable jobs. Given the fact that the Northern Cape has an expanded unemployment rate of more than forty per cent, the time for yet another economic talkshop or designing a pretty logo for a provincial strategy which will never be implemented has long since passed.
Ons wil nie nou prentjies teken nie, agbare premier. Ons wil nou robuuste ekonomiese groei dryf, deur strukturele hervorming en verandering in beleid wat kan meebring dat entrepreneurs ondersteun word, dat klein besighede ‘n hupstoot gegee word en dat werk geskep word, veral vir ons jeug. Ons het nie nou gespreksessies nodig wat eintlik maar net ANC-lekgotlas met uitspattige spyseniering is nie; ons het nou aksieplanne nodig wat ‘n siklus skep waarin ekonomiese geleenthede volop is en waar ons mense bemagtig word om hierdie ekonomiese geleenthede aan te gryp.
Die Demokratiese Alliansie het reeds bewys dat, waar ons aan bewind is, ons die nodige aksieplanne kan implementeer wat omvattende vaardigheidsontwikkeling bied en wat ekonomiese groei aanwakker.
Dis nie ‘n gebrek aan gespreksessies wat ons ekonomiese groei in die provinsie kniehalter nie, maar eerder die feit dat die bestaande hulpbronne nie reg aangewend word nie. Die agbare premier is natuurlik ten volle bewus van die probleme in hierdie verband; sy het immers die LUR vir Finansies, Ekonomiese Ontwikkeling & Toerisme by die Valke gaan aangee vir ongerymdhede by daardie berugte korrupsiefonds in sy departement. Dis dieselfde LUR wat aan stuur van sake staan by die provinsiale tesourie, wat volgens die premier se toespraak strenger intervensies by munisipaliteite sowel as die departemente van gesondheid en onderwys gaan loods.
Health care, or the lack thereof, remains a critical problem in the province. The commitments to prioritising health care made during last year’s State of the Province Address sounded promising, but that’s where it stayed – promises.
The honourable premier said that no clinic or hospital would go without medication. A week after she delivered that promise, hospitals in the province once again found themselves out of stock of a long list of critical medical supplies, including dialysis disposals and drip sets. The Wege Hospital in Hopetown found itself without diesel for its back-up generators at a time when Thembelihle Municipality was experiencing excessive power cuts due to unpaid debts to Eskom. The Hester Malan Hospital in Douglas was left with nothing but bread and pap to serve its sick patients. And, for the umpteenth time, the department risked losing life-saving equipment such as CT scanners, oxygen machines and X-ray machines to the Sheriff of the Court.
Lives were put at stake because the Health Department was unable to honour a multitude of debts. And once again, this boils down to the previously mentioned pest of accruals. It’s a vicious cycle and the sub-standard health care provision to the people of the province is in turn being mirrored by growing legal claims against the Northern Cape Health Department.
In total, legal claims against the health department alone tripled in the past financial year from just under R500 million to close on R1,5 billion, at the last known date. Medical negligence claims account for the biggest portion of the claims facing the department, and currently stand at R1,2 billion. Growing medico-legal claims speak to a number of issues such as the lack of staff, overworked staff, improperly qualified staff, shortage of pharmaceuticals, the absence of critical equipment, deficient medical supplies, not enough operational ambulances, issues pertaining to hygiene, failure to secure patient records, poor patient safety and so on.
The problems at Health are not insurmountable, especially with the deployment of the new MEC of Health, Fufe Makatong, whose appointment we endorse. I want to urge the new MEC to tackle the bull by the horns and getting rid of unfunded political mandates. I already now want to warn the new MEC that this department is known for litigation, which causes the department to struggle financially because of short sighted decisions of senior managers.
Speaking of which, we need to fill those HOD vacancies at Economic Development & Tourism, Treasury and Environment & Nature Conservation as a matter of urgency. It seems that the provincial administration is stuck in a cycle of re-advertising these posts instead of making the necessary appointments.
As a former MEC of Environment & Nature Conservation, the premier knows how vital it is to protect our natural resources. The Democratic Alliance welcomes the eventual development of the Northern Cape Climate Change Adaptation strategy. Given the increasingly dry conditions in our province and our country, we simply cannot afford to further delay the implementation of this strategy and we need to attach the necessary funding to ensure that our natural resources are given the protection it deserves.
We are relieved that the drought has finally been declared a national disaster. The manner in which the national department of Agriculture allocates funds for drought relief in the province remains a concern.
Honourable Premier, we need you as guardian of this province to ensure that no middlemen are used in the procurement and transport of animal feed. Our farmers cannot afford to lose another Bentley’s worth of drought pellets to connected tenderpreneurs.
Issued by Andrew Louw, DA Provincial Leader in the Northern Cape, 6 March 2018