New dawn? More like a false sighting under Ramaphosa
Instead of co-ordinated governance, SA has seen disjointed decision-making and sweepingly bad decisions by the ANC
Tony Blair, in his first term as British prime minister in 1997, introduced the idea of “joined up government”.
This idea changed and influenced, according to policy mavens, how structures are organised, how budgets are allocated and how public servants and their political masters and mistresses perform their duties.
Since Blair was a self-proclaimed “moderniser” he escapes, I imagine, the tag “colonial”. It might just be possible, then, to have an adult discussion in South Africa on the merits of this approach without the infantile chorus of local “Toytown Trotskyites” (to borrow Blair’s colleague Denis Healey’s label) drowning out the discussion.
But whatever the obvious advantages of government pulling together in co-ordinated fashion – aligning objectives to key and predictable outcomes, fashioning means towards ends and living within the scarcity of finite resources – no such approach is evident in the “new dawn” administration of Cyril Ramaphosa.
In passing, and perhaps as a nod toward this approach, the government even has a cabinet minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.But since the incumbent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is still licking her wounds from her defeat in December, little has been heard from her, except to douse the flames of insurrection in North West. And perhaps to advance the agenda of allies of her former husband, Jacob Zuma, whose appetite for revenge against the forces which ousted him apparently is in overdrive.
Instead, and apparent on a wide front, we witness the opposite of joined up governance – unco-ordinated and disjointed decision-making and the misalignment of announcements from stated policy objectives.
But quite where the decision-making in government is located remains one of the key mysteries of modern South Africa.
Is it in the party or in the administration, or is there no difference between the two? But in this case, it is passing strange that in the almighty ruling party and its inner sanctums the key people placed in charge of party policy have no line function responsibility for actually implementing government policy.
Thus on the one hand, for example, there is a minister of International Relations, Lindiwe Sisulu. But she is not in charge of ANC policy on the subject. This honour falls to Lindiwe Zulu, whose day job is minister for Small Business Development. But fear not, Sisulu, in turn, has another alternative role in the national executive of the ANC – she is in charge of its “social transformation committee”, whatever that might mean and wherever its writ in the departments of state run.
But the biggest ace-in-the-hole announced by the ruling party last week was its decision to thrust Tony Yengeni into a new role: he will chair the “working group on crime and corruption” (day jobs here shared between Police Minister Bheki Cele and Justice Minister Michael Masutha).This appointment did indeed attract a lot of comment, none of it too kind. Since he is both a convicted and sentenced fraudster and the object of his crime was the very heart of the country’s governance, parliament, in any half self-respecting country he would lurk in the shadows of disgrace and infamy.
But this being South Africa governed by the ANC, no such fate awaits Yengeni. The Sunday Times editorialised it best with the headline: “On the other hand, he is a leading expert on the issue.”
Unblushingly, and with nary an ethical wobble or a nod even toward the separation of powers or the supremacy of the rule of law, ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte waded into his defence.She batted away not one but two court judgments against Yengeni on the fraud and corruption charges and the prison sentence. “Ms Justice Duarte” as we should dub her now, proclaimed that the conviction of Yengeni was wrong. There you have it. We might as well dismantle the courts and allow Jessie’s Star Chamber to dispose on matters of guilt and innocence.
All the while, Ramaphosa, in-between his current visit to Mauritania, where a high percentage of the population remains under slavery, proclaims the fight against corruption continues in overdrive.
On the subject of aligning objectives with consequences, jostling for contention in the overcrowded field of state corruption is the unfolding scandal around VBS Mutual Bank, a once obscure outfit which rode to Jacob Zuma’s financial rescue (along with a host of shadowy individuals, crooks and charlatans) and provided him with a bond to cover his Nkandla expenses.
Essentially a Ponzi scheme, VBS illegally took R1.6-billion in deposits from the most cash-strapped municipalities in the most Zuma-aligned areas of the country against the prescripts of both national Treasury and the law governing municipal finances which prohibits local government deposits into a mutual bank, such as VBS. And the Ponzi part came when the bank used short-term deposits to advance long-term loans which could not be repaid and should never have been advanced. In the meantime, an orgy of illegal living high on the hog by its directors and favoured third parties joined up the wearingly familiar picture.
But amidst a welter of illegality and malfeasance and worse, here is a standout fact and feature of the utter disjointedness between government and party, deed and consequence – or more precisely, the lack thereof.
On Monday, in response to a parliamentary question by COPE MP Diedre Carter, Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zwele Mkhize confirmed the illegality of the deposits and bemoaned the impact of the irrecoverable losses for the most at-risk municipalities and the likely resultant service delivery protests. And he provided a roll call of shame with the most delinquent provinces and municipalities which had acted with such reckless abandon and worse with ratepayers’ funds.
Topping the list was the province of Limpopo where eight of its municipalities had deposited R1-billion, now lost and with little hope of recovery, and central government adamant there will be no bail-out (though, if past behaviour is any guide, this standpoint will be soon abandoned).And then, lo, it had been announced just a few days before that the woman at the centre of the VBS scandal in Limpopo, Vhembe mayor Florence Radzilani, had been elected to the number two position as deputy ANC chair in the province. Her municipality had sunk R300-million into the VBS Bank and she is now touted as the next MEC for co-operative governance and traditional affairs.
This is a spectacular example of joined up government of the worst sort.
Yengeni-like, she doubtless knows a great deal of how to misuse municipal funds. But she is unlikely to be of any positive assistance to her new national boss, Mkhize, in his self-proclaimed task of rooting out the corruption behind the collapse of VBS Bank and the lost billions in municipal funds.
Joined up government is a very good idea. Perhaps in a South Africa on the brink, we should have a more modest aim. Ensure, as the old sayings goes, that we practise what we preach; and, that deeds have consequences.
That would be a real new dawn, not another false sighting.