OUTA: Another disappointing SONA fails to inspire confidence with broken promises and political squabbles

The President’s State of the Nation Address has been criticised for its lack of credible solutions to the country’s problems. The declaration of a state of disaster has been seen as a weak response to the energy crisis, and the addition of a new Minister of Electricity has been seen as a sign of the President’s mistrust of Cabinet. Promises made in the speech, such as better protection for whistleblowers, have been repeated from previous years and not implemented. The squabbling behaviour of MPs during the speech has also been criticised. The President’s promises of billions of rand in infrastructure spending were seen as insufficient without addressing the maintenance of existing infrastructure or the water crisis caused by government pollution.

Another disappointing SONA of empty promises and desperation

*OUTA is a proudly South African non-profit civil action organisation, tackling the abuse of public funds and corruption by holding government accountable.

We’d like to believe the President, but a lot of his speech is wishful thinking and the broken promises we’ve heard before.

The President’s State of the Nation Address failed to inspire confidence. He acknowledged many of the problems but did not offer believable solutions. He offered many promises, many of which we’ve heard before. It would be wonderful if all these promises were realised or even underway. The President sought to inspire hope, but he succeeded in reminding us how bad the situation really is. His address confirms the country has been poorly managed for too long.

State of disaster
We do not believe that declaring a state of disaster is appropriate. This is not the mechanism to provide South Africa with energy security. It appears this decision is intended to give an impression that action is being taken, when the reality is that government’s plan is weak.

OUTA is considering the gazetted notice of the declaration of the state of disaster with a view to possible action.

We do not believe that a state of disaster will cure government’s inability to address the crisis. It will not make previously inept officials and ministers suddenly competent and willing to do their jobs.

The explanation in the gazetted notice declaring the state of disaster raises further concern rather than providing reassurance, as it says it is “to ensure that measures are put in place to enable the National Executive to effectively deal with the effects of this disaster and prevent the escalation of the severe electricity supply constraint to a total blackout”. Raising the possibility of a total blackout does not sound like a government in control.
It is also curious that Eskom seemed a little taken aback by this announcement, which suggests that Eskom’s board and executive management were not consulted.

Another minister in the energy landscape

Adding a new Minister of Electricity – to oversee the electricity crisis – adds weight to an already bloated and lacklustre Cabinet. We are not convinced this is a solution. Will we now have three ministers, each playing different roles in the electricity landscape: A Minister of Public Enterprises; a Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy; and a Minister of Electricity? Who will be accountable for what? Setting up new ministries or positions does not fix problems in ineffective departments.

We note this is another key position which is being centralised in the Presidency: this is not a sign of a healthy democracy but rather of the President’s mistrust of Cabinet and perhaps an attempt to circumvent the obstructive Minister Mantashe.

Many repeated promises

There are lots of promises, from a President who has had very limited success in delivering on previous promises. Many of these are repeats from previous years which have not been implemented: better protection for whistleblowers; title deeds for subsidised housing; finalisation of the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill; third party use of rail networks; finishing the much-delayed Giyani water project and Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase II; rationalising the size of government departments; and reducing red tape for business.

Despite promises of many billions of rand in spending on new infrastructure, little was mentioned about maintaining existing infrastructure. Promising to “address” local government failures by “enhancing the capacity of public representatives and officials” ignores the vast amounts of money already spent on this with no result.

Addressing the water crisis requires stopping pollution by local government wastewater treatment plants and repairing leaks and broken infrastructure. Government is the biggest polluter and yet we heard nothing about how this disaster will be addressed.

Our squabbling MPs

Once again, parliamentarians disgraced South Africa at the start of the SONA, sending a message of intolerance and immaturity in our governance process to the world. We wish more of our MPs would be as passionate about eradicating corruption as they are about unnecessary disruption of the SONA.

More information:

A soundclip with comment by OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage is here.

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