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Department of Public Works Budget Policy Vote Deputy Minister, Jeremy Cronin 15 May 2018

There is an ancient Chinese proverb: "Learn to cross the river by feeling the stones." Difficult tasks are not necessarily best accomplished by simply rushing in headlong. Learn from experience.

So, let's go back to the very first Public Works White Paper of 1997. In his foreword, the first post-apartheid Public Works Minister, cde Jeff Radebe began by saying:

"Since its establishment the Department of Public Works has frequently been treated as a Cinderella department, narrowly confined to its tasks as state property manager and facility maintenance agent."

There are many features in the 1997 White Paper that remain relevant today, but it is also interesting to reflect back on the framing with which the first democratic administration conceptualised the role of Public Works.

The mandate of being a "state property manager" was clearly seen, back in 1997, as narrow, and implicitly routine if not downright boring, making of DPW a "Cinderella" department.

Two years after the White Paper, in 1999, Cabinet indeed approved, in principle, the creation of a State Property Agency. Unfortunately, and for several reasons, not much progress was made.

When Minister Nxesi was first appointed as Minister of Public Works in late 2011 he found himself in a department in a state of chaos and with repeated audit disclaimers.

  • Strategic instability partly due to a very high turnover of political and executive leadership; and
  • The non-existence of a complete asset register; and

The briefing note further observed, quite correctly, that all of this was both the product of and a facilitator for endemic corruption.

From early 2012 Minister Nxesi launched a major Turnaround and subsequent Stabilisation Programme.

This is a journey, a crossing of a river undertaken, by the way, together with successive Parliamentary Portfolio Committees. There are still some surviving veterans and stalwarts from the beginning of this process, the Hon Sithole for instance, as well as some of the Parliamentary support staff, who through engagement, constructive criticism, discussion and debate have contributed to the substantive turnaround and stabilisation that, I believe, has occurred, not least with the establishment of a ring-fenced PMTE as a government component reporting directly to the Minister.

But, of course, advances bring new challenges.

We can recognise here the seeds of what was to become, in 2004, the launch of the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Today, the EPWP is one of the largest and one of the most consistently sustained public employment programmes in the world.

This is a great success, a global pioneering contribution when the very future of work is being questioned amidst job precariousness and an impending Fourth Industrial Revolution. In particular the International Labour Organisation has often commended the multi-sectoral character of our Public Employment Programmes.

Which is not to say that DPW should not be, indeed we ARE, expending considerable time and effort in assisting municipalities, provinces and even national departments in improving their EPWP data capturing and reporting. We are also running all reported participant IDs through the Home Affairs data base. Where there are anomalies we remove these from the work opportunities that we report.

We continue to engage both the AG and the Accountant General on how best to ensure clean and accurate reporting.

Three inter-related challenges have started to emerge with the Incentive Grant system:

  • One, there is a growing tendency for the Incentive Grant to become the sole funding source for EPWP programmes rather than a top-up to MIG municipal spending, for instance;
  • Two, in many municipalities, part of the incentive grant is dispersed to individual Ward Councillors this, in our view, is a grave risk and may account for allegations of abuse in the recruitment of participants;
  • Three, and this brings us back to the ongoing engagement with the AG around reporting responsibilities if DPW is the post-box for transferring the Incentive Grant, even though we are not implementing these programmes on the ground, do we have accounting responsibilities nonetheless?

As we move towards a new, the 6th democratic 5-year Administration next year, we need to reflect on how to improve the Incentive Grant arrangement. We will be engaging Cabinet, but also the Portfolio Committee in the course of the year. Do we, for instance, target the Incentive Grant more specifically, to one or two major programmes that have proven their durability and have the capacity to be scaled-up?

Earlier this year, the National Assembly adopted a resolution to establish a Constitutional Review Committee to recommend whether, or not, the Constitution requires amendment to allow expropriation without compensation "in a manner that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensures that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid."

In the light of this resolution it is useful to remind ourselves of an often forgotten sub-clause within the Property Clause, 25 (8). It reads:

Section 36 (1) of the Bill of Rights is the Limitation Clause, and it states:

However, let's not pre-empt the important work of the Constitutional Review Committee. I do, however, want to urge, in line with President Ramaphosa's responses in the National Assembly last week, that, regardless of our political affiliations, we engage with this absolutely critical but emotive land debate in a rational and constructive manner.

Let none of us be in denial about the terrible legacy of colonial and apartheid dispossession of the black majority (whether indigenous or the descendants of those who arrived here as slaves or indentured workers). Let none of us be in denial about the legacy of white privilege. We must all acknowledge, as we surely do, the many afflictions currently associated with present grossly inequitable land ownership and use patterns.

As the public works family, in the executive, in Parliament we have an important contribution to make.

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