De Lille on the state of the nation

Speech by the Independent Democrats leader Parliament February 9 2009

Mr President, the Independent Democrats welcomes your honesty on the challenges we face as a nation.

The ID agrees that progress has been made in the transformation of our society over the past 15 years.

However, during this same period we have also seen a dangerous erosion of the very values that informed us during our struggle for freedom and equality.

This is especially evident in the increasing inequalities in our society, where millions of our people are living in poverty, are hungry, suffering from disease, have poor education and no services - while others live lives of luxury, wealth and comfort.

We need to adopt innovative solutions and strategies for poverty alleviation and job creation.

We are pleased that you prioritized the challenges posed by the global economic meltdown and outlined some of government's plans to deal with this.

The ID certainly supports some of the elements of the economic stimulus package you announced in your Address.

However, the numbers of our people that do not receive any assistance from government is increasing as a result of the massive retrenchments we are currently witnessing.

We urgently need to extend the social security net through the implementation of a Minimum Income Grant.

The ID would also like to see the immediate extension of the Child Support Grant to all children under 18, which we have called for consistently over the past 5 years.

This extension would also help reduce the school drop-out rate in the 14 to 18-year-old category.

Government needs to get serious about tackling youth unemployment, which currently stands at 70%, by providing wage subsidies to youth between the ages of 18 and 25.

This would have the effect of giving businesses a real incentive to hire first-time work seekers.

Now is certainly the time for government to invest in our economy, as global demand for our commodities drops off rapidly.

This will not only create jobs, but also position us for when the next global commodities boom hits, at which time we must have an infrastructure that can capitalize on it to the fullest.

Mr President, I would like to draw your attention to the high import intensity of our current infrastructure build, as outlined in the medium term expenditure framework, because this creates very few local jobs.

We in the Independent Democrats would like to stress the importance of ensuring that all public investment is done with the intention of creating jobs for our people.

The global economic crisis presents us with an exciting opportunity for massive investments in renewable energy, which will not only create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but also provide sustainable energy for our people and position us as a world leader in combating climate change.

There is no reason why South Africa cannot be one of the world leaders in terms of renewable energy.

This would enable us to develop skills, where hundreds of thousands of our people will be able to become plumbers, electricians, solar power installers and wind turbine technicians.

In only 10 to15 years, Germany created a quarter of a million jobs in its renewable energy industry.

This requires more than just a sentence in your speech Mr President; it requires leadership, political will and budgetary resources.

Mr President, setting a target of a million solar water heaters in 3 years and installing only 800 in the first year means that government is not serious.

We call on government to suspend all spending on projects like the PBMR, the conventional nuclear and arms industries, which create very few jobs and waste billions of rand on foreign companies.

Government must also ensure that our competition policy is more pro-active in ensuring free economic activity.

We need to come down hard on any company, or individual that is found guilty of defrauding the poor through price-fixing.

In addition, we need to open up key sectors to competition, such as telecommunications.

The ID believes that it is not privatisation that is needed, but competition, in order to secure efficiency and lower prices.

Mr President, the ID was surprised to hear you saying that stamping out corruption is a core focus of this government.

This is because we believe that government has weakened our fight against crime by stamping out the Scorpions, instead of delivering on the ANC's 2004 election manifesto promise that the Scorpions would be strengthened.

This and your refusal to institute a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Arms Deal corruption are proof that the ANC government does not agree that corruption steals from the poor and that we are all equal before the law.

Mr President, we would also like to bring your attention to the fact that all the plans in the world are nothing without implementation.

The question is also whether we have the skills and the will within Government and the public service to implement these plans.

While we understand the historical context for our shortage of skills, the Independent Democrats is deeply concerned by the lack of skills and competence by far too many in the public service.

We also agree that it is necessary to expand the public service in certain key areas, but we need to be weary of a bloated and incompetent public service in which cronyism; patronage and nepotism become the norm.

We need to professionalise the public service and ensure that it becomes the frontline of patriotism and service to our people and finally deliver a developmental state.

We also need to fill the thousands of vacancies in the public sector, for example in health, where there are 55 000 vacancies.

Mr President, despite a government promise to address this, many of our children are still learning under trees.

You have acknowledged weaknesses in several areas, but 15 years down the line the need for skills has become critical and if we do not drastically and urgently improve our education system, our skills shortage will worsen.

There are still massive inequalities in our education system and the Independent Democrats is not satisfied that our children are receiving the teaching they deserve.

We urgently need to introduce a Child Education Grant, which would cover school fees, transport and uniforms.

We cannot leave one school unattended in our efforts to ensure access to electricity, water and sanitation and the provision of libraries, functioning science laboratories and free internet connectivity.

Mr President, we support your commitment to gender equality, but the Independent Democrats will never accept that the fight against patriarchy in our society is only about numbers.

What good is it to have more women sitting on these benches if they are not prepared to stand up against their own leaders when they make atrocious statements about women and their role in our society?

The ID maintains that the oppression of women can only be defeated through taking a stand against the attitudes and prejudices that inform it.

Mr President, to overcome the challenges we face, South Africa requires more than just the effort of our people, we require innovative solutions, the will to implement them and bold leadership.

The Independent Democrats is not yet convinced that all of these requirements are being met by government.

This is the prepared text of the address by Independent Democrats leader, Patricia De Lille, on the president's state of the nation address, February 9 2009

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