All talk and no action

2010-03-07 07:38

THERE is something similar in the way President Jacob Zuma and his ministers talk. They create the impression that ­government is well-run when in fact there are many hurdles to be overcome.

Last week the president said he had a solution for the problems facing the country’s ­state-owned companies but on Monday Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan – who was asked about Zuma’s everlasting ­solution – indicated that some work still needed to be done.

She said she had held discussions with the president and there was going to be “an alignment of his submission with the work of the inter-ministerial committee” that was ­reviewing the performance of all companies the state owned.

The failure to promptly attend to dysfunctional or headless ­parastatals flies in the face of the ruling party’s rhetoric about South Africa being a developmental state. After all, state-owned agencies and ­companies are central to the realisation of the developmental goals the government has set itself.

There is something jarring about the rhetoric on development on the one hand and the slow-footed way in which the ­Zuma administration is attending to the problems facing these ­entities.

Virtually no sense of where ­government was heading came out in the cluster briefings in Parliament this week. Ministers either ­regurgitated old details or deferred issues to a later date.

On the eve of the state of the ­nation address, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said Cabinet had finalised a set of targets which Zuma would use to hold his ministers accountable.

“In a fortnight the ministers ­responsible for the various aspects of government’s programmes will provide more detailed briefings on progress and plans from February?22,” said the minister, who could not attend the briefing as he was accompanying Zuma on a state visit to the UK.

This week the government changed its stance as it realised that the targets were not in place. Neo Momodu, a top government official chairing the briefing, said Chabane would probably convene a meeting with journalists next week to ­explain how the system worked.

A closer look at the briefings shows that the targets as well as the way ministers would meet them have not been finalised.

It remains to be seen whether ­Zuma will be able to crack the whip on ministers who fail to perform. It would take political courage to fire a slack minister, especially when that minister belongs to the SA Communist Party (SACP) or is aligned to the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Would Zuma sack Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande if he failed to deliver on getting most poor students to finish their ­studies? Would Zuma do the same with Economic Minister Ebrahim Patel and Children, Women and People with Disabilities Minister ­Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya? We doubt it. The SACP would not accept that their general secretary was a flop and Cosatu would do the same for Mayende-Sibiya.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has ­complained that there aren’t enough senior members in the governing party who have a left slant. It would be virtually impossible to remove the few who are there.

Author Kwandiwe Kondlo has warned the Zuma administration about striking a balance between creating hope among the population and actually “getting the wheels of government to move faster, coherently and effectively” to meet the people’s expectations.

“It is not enough to have good ­intentions; it only makes a material difference to mean well and also act well,” he writes.

Maybe the president should take heed of this.

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