What about remorse?

2012-01-24 00:00

THE national Cabinet’s decision to put five departments of the Limpopo Provincial Government under administration for failure to administer state funds appropriately, thus contributing immensely to pushing the province to the brink of technical bankruptcy, was a bit of a surprise.

The decision has been construed by provincial forces, who are still celebrating the victory of Cassel Mathale in the provincial ANC elections late in December, as designed to dampen their spirits and to paralyse their agenda for leadership change at Mangaung.

The national Treasury’s preliminary investigations suggest that to fight back the provincial leadership has encouraged public servants to sabotage service delivery to undermine the intervention. Increasingly, Limpopo has been thrust into the centre of succession politics and controversies in the run-up to Mangaung. It has positioned itself as the driver of the push for leadership change and feels that it is being targeted by the Jacob Zuma leadership for that reason. It may have worked itself into such a corner that it has become paranoid about any action by the national government in the province.

Herein lies a fundamental error by the Limpopo leadership: it has failed to accept publicly responsibility for the mess in the province and thus show some remorse for these failures. It should rather have indicated its support for the national intervention and committed to work harder to redeem itself.

Then on a separate platform, that is internal ANC channels, the provincial ANC could have raised issues of party politics. Thus we would have been spared the confusion of trying to make sense of the politicking while trying to digest the national Treasury’s statement on what has been found so far and the response of the national task team.

Clearly, the leadership of the Limpopo ANC made serious mistakes that have helped escalate the problem of unauthorised and wasteful expenditure.

It has been in the news for some time now that out of the triumphalism of Polokwane 2007, the provincial ANC has allowed the dishing out of tenders to victors in internal leadership squabbles and the complete enmeshing of the state and party in that province. It is in that context that it has been alleged that associates of the provincial chairperson and premier, Mathale, including suspended ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, have taken advantage of this to acquire disproportionately large tenders from the provincial government and municipalities. There have been allegations that powerful politicians outside the government have become so influential in government procurement decision-making that the state administration is being paralysed.

Clearly, the national government has erred in allowing the situation to degenerate to the point where it was reported in December that teachers, doctors and nurses might not receive their salaries. This would have affected their households and others who depend on them. This could also have caused a complete collapse of essential state services and affected citizens who depend on them.

It baffles me that a situation that has been festering since 2009 was allowed to degenerate to the current state. It raises serious questions about the efficiency of the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the national Treasury. The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs is responsible for co-ordinating national and provincial governments and so should have raised red flags much earlier, while Treasury uses financial management and budgetary systems to monitor developments that could compromise the country’s financial system and government integrity in respect of financial management.

Now that the national government has taken control of the situation, it should not be cowed by politicisation of this matter. It has to press on with the investigation into what caused the failure, analyse system deficiencies, identify and prosecute culprits and strengthen management and accountability mechanisms in the province, once and for all.

Besides allowing the task team to perform its constitutional task, the provincial government and ANC leadership in Limpopo need to reflect very thoroughly on their becoming the shame of South Africa, because they failed the people who elected them and the general public, and on whether they are in a position to correct their wrongs and win the confidence of the people again.

The ANC as a whole needs to reflect very seriously on the harm that this has caused to the organisation to which millions of South Africans have entrusted the power to govern. In doing so, it must understand that the Limpopo scenario, which is probably playing out in one or two other provinces the ANC runs, will ultimately cost it votes. The ordinary people of Limpopo and other affected areas also need to take seriously their responsibility to hold leadership to account.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

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