Taking the reins of a department in disarray

2011-10-29 15:48

One of the things Thulas Nxesi did after he was appointed rural development and land reform deputy minister was to visit his village of Mvenyane, outside Matatiele in the Eastern Cape.

He wanted to find out why, while the government spent huge sums of money restoring land to rural communities, vast swathes of farmland were lying fallow and people were unemployed.

The 52-year-old former teacher later wrote that the visit had taught him about “fundamental contradictions and challenges” in land reform.

His surprise appointment as public works minister this week, hardly a year after he was made rural development minister, means the former South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary needs to re-acquaint himself with how government works.

After being sworn in, he said he would go on a “listening campaign” before unveiling his plans for his new portfolio.

He’s occupying a hot seat. After all, his predecessors Geoff Doidge and Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde were booted out unceremoniously.

Their Achilles heel, seemingly the multimillion-rand police headquarters lease, is far from resolved.

Nxesi takes over a department that’s without a permanent director-general, and which needs to get its financial books in order. The auditor-general’s latest report shows that:
» It can’t account for R1.3-billion of transactions in its financial books;

» R16-million was spent fruitlessly and irregularly;

» There’s no evidence in its financial books for more than R800 million incurred in goods and services; and

» It’s underspending on its budget and conditional grants.

Under Nxesi’s leadership, Sadtu grew its membership from 20 000 to 200 000, making it SA’s biggest teachers’ union.

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