Zuma goes beyond promises

2012-02-10 00:00

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma presented a ambitious road map for economic growth last night, centred on massive infrastructure development in the hope of much-needed job creation.

KwaZulu-Natal is set to benefit because the long-talked-about transport and industrial corridor linking the province with Free State and Gauteng is to become a reality.

The president mentioned a huge injection of funds for rail transport. Transnet is set to get R300 billion in capital projects in the next seven years and R200 billion of this will be for rail projects.

Infrastructure development was the highlight of the state of the nation address. It was a section boldly delivered by a confident and relaxed-looking Zuma, a marked change from previous years.

With less than a week to go before the Supreme Court of Appeal case that may determine his future as president, Zuma projected an image of a man in control.

But the rest of what he had to say about education and health appeared lacklustre and very much a repeat of what he had said previously.

It was clear from the speech that the country’s job creation plans are tied up with the massive infrastructure projects set to take place in just about every province.

“The massive investment in infrastructure must leave more than just power stations, rail lines, dams and roads. It must industrialise the country, generate skills and boost much needed job creation,” Zuma said.

[See right for infrastructural projects in the pipeline.]

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said South Africa had the money to spend on the infrastructure projects.

He told BuaNews: “We already know that for the past five or six years that for every three-year period we have had something around R800 billion to R900 billion being spent, largely by our state-owned enterprises [on infrastructure].

“So we’ve demonstrated the ability to bring resources in, which is what will be required to get these projects going.”

Gordhan stressed that these key infrastructure projects would be developed over a number of years.

Among other things, the projects would help develop better economic links between outlying areas and the main urban centres and make it easier for companies to export and do business locally, he said.

“If we get this right it means that many areas of the country will have a heightened level of economic opportunity and there will be all sorts of job opportunities, and there will be opportunities for people to manufacture the things that go into the investment in the infrastructure development that has been outlined,” he said.

Gordhan also defended the principle that the state should get more involved in the economy.

“You know, if the state didn’t get involved in all the economies of the world, particularly the major ones, since 2008 you would have had no economy or country left.”

He pointed out that it was the state, backed by taxpayers’ money, that had helped save banks in the 2008 financial crisis.

“So the story about the state getting too involved is an old story. What we need is the right balance.”

Other encouraging highlights in the state of the nation address was the president’s undertaking that he would talk to Eskom about the exorbitant cost of electricity.

“I have asked Eskom to seek options on how the price increase requirement may be reduced over the next few years, in support of economic growth and job creation and to give me proposals for consideration,” he said.

He also gave specific details of government’s initiative to curb tenderpreneurship in the light of the massive infrastructure projects in the pipeline

On procurement abuse, the president said a multi-agency working group led by National Treasury, the South African Revenue Service and the Financial Intelligence Centre was reviewing the entire state procurement system to ensure better value for money from state spending.

“Initiatives include the vetting of supply chain personnel in government departments.”

He said Home Affairs would be signing a memorandum of understanding with the banking industry to roll out the online fingerprint verification system in all participating banks to assist in fraud prevention and detection.

The verdict of most of the VIPs who attended the state of the nation address was that Zuma’s speech was an appropriate end to a day of pomp and pageantry. It was clear the president had rehearsed it as, for the most part, he came across loud and clear.

He made fewer nervous gestures, touched his spectacles only four times and daringly deviated from the written text to crack a few jokes.

He reminded the house that Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi was passionate about getting the nation to exercise. And he had a dig at the national soccer team Bafana Bafana when he mentioned that South Africa would be hosting the Africa Cup of Nations next year.

To laughter he drily remarked that even if the national team did not qualify, they still managed to get there by default — as hosts — as was the case with the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

“We certainly hope that this time round they go to the final and we must give them big support,” the president added.

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