28 February 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA’s provincial leader, Andrew Louw MPL, during the debate on the State of the Province Address held in Warrenton today.
Listening to the Premier last week was actually a very sad day in my life. The sadness was amplified by the empty rhetoric that the Premier has, once again, promised to the people of the Northern Cape. I am not surprised at all, because – when you look and listen to the low morale of public servants in our province – then it speaks volumes.
The Premier minced her words when it came to matters of the Health Department. This is probably because the Premier didn’t want the spotlight to be turned onto a department that is being used as a political tool by ANC factions preparing for a face-off at the party’s upcoming elective conference.
Honourable Speaker, it is an utter disgrace that internal departmental decisions are being handled in such a way as to appease unions in order to win votes. This is wrong. This is immoral. This shows no regard for our patients’ lives. Where has the spirit of Batho Pele gone?
Where is Batho Pele when our health facilities run out of psychotic medications, exposing already neglected mental health care patients to extended risks? Where is Batho Pele when our mental health patients are still housed in prison because there is no mental health facility in the province?
Where is Batho Pele when one thousand immobile people with some form of disability have to wait in vain to be presented with a wheelchair?
Where is Batho Pele when the death rate of newborn babies picks up due to a lack of neonatal resources in the districts?
I am delighted to hear that it is the objective to ensure that no clinic or hospital suffers from medication stock-outs. Unfortunately, it appears that this will only remain an objective of this administration, as it does not become a reality on the ground. By its own admission, the department is incapable of delivering on the very basic goal that clinics have medication. In the past year alone, there have been stock-outs of ARVs, blood pressure tablets, psychiatric medication … to name but a few!
The Premier remained mum on the mental health hospital that has already been under construction for eleven years and is, again, over budget. I reiterate the DA’s challenge to the Premier to give the audience here today a true picture of the total costs and budget shortfall of this facility, as well as her plans for mental health in the province.
In contrast to the mental health hospital, the Premier bragged about the new substance abuse treatment centre that is under construction. But again, it is what she failed to say that really matters. Progress on the centre is already behind schedule due to legal disputes pertaining to issues relating to the awarding of the tender. This doesn’t bode well for the timely completion of this much needed facility. Is it another mental health hospital in the waiting? For the sake of the people in the province, I sincerely hope not.
Indeed, Honourable Speaker, the management and implementation of infrastructure projects have proved to be very problematic for the provincial government. It is the exception rather than the norm that infrastructure projects are completed within time and on budget. Now it appears that the provincial government wants to shift this responsibility onto the mines. It is the core responsibility of the mines to provide jobs, not to fund and implement the projects that should be undertaken by the provincial government.
The Premier also bragged about the recruitment of additional doctors to the Doctor Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington. I want the public to know that the successful recruitment of health professionals to this province is nothing new – doctors and nurses frequently come. What the Premier failed to say, is that they also go. And it is the going, not the coming, that is the problem. The real solution lies in implementing a realistic retention strategy, prioritising the needs of health care professionals in rural areas. We need to address the housing, safety and lifestyle needs of these health professionals.
In the long term, the Health Department should also set aside dedicated budgets for its’ Nursing and EMS colleges. Once it has properly resourced its inept colleges, it then needs to focus on increasing its training capacity and ensuring a proportional intake of students from all five districts. Importantly, binding contracts of employment for graduates in their home towns must then be enforced, ensuring a constant flow of health professionals to the under-resourced rural areas of the Northern Cape. The successful implementation of such an initiative, however, also requires a sharp and focused HR unit – something that is currently still lacking within the Health Department.
Until then, we will see many more health professionals fleeing the employ of this department.
The Premier alluded to the establishment of a single office to manage bursaries. This may well be a step in the right direction to ensure a more informed, streamlined and integrated approach towards filling the serious skills gaps in the province, as there have been tremendous problems regarding payments of tertiary institutions by government departments. Bursaries are also not always properly aligned to the actual skills need and vacant funded posts on the establishment and this can be improved upon. However, this step alone won’t achieve a better capacitated administration.
Last year, we saw the extent to which the Department of Social Development had essentially dumped social work graduates who were contractually owed jobs on the completion of their training. This is in spite of the department not having enough social workers to optimally fulfil its mandate. Other departments, like Health, are equally guilty.
The absorption of bursary holders must go hand-in-hand with the awarding of bursaries. We note the announcement made by the Minister of Finance during his budget speech that a new grant for the absorption of social workers in particular will be implemented. We look forward to the potential impact that this can have for social work graduates who are sitting at home while welfare services suffer.
It is an indictment on this provincial administration that our youth are sitting at home, eager to work, but unable to find jobs. We have a lost generation of youth who are not in education, employment or training. In fact, according to Stats SA, youth unemployment is higher in the Northern Cape than elsewhere in the country.
What the Premier offered is so out of touch with this reality as to be delusional.
Yes, the premier promises us a youth development strategy. This same strategy was also promised in the 2016 State of the Province Address and no tangible progress can be reported. While your officials twiddle their thumbs and your administration drifts around without a clear policy, our youth are without jobs, without income, without hope.
Allow me to outline the simple solution: We need to capacitate our youth for employment and we need to create an economic environment that is able to absorb those equipped with skills. It really is as straightforward as that and, where the Democratic Alliance governs, we have shown that we are capable of doing this.
Agbare Speaker, die premier het EPWP werksgeleenthede aangeraak. Die DA verwelkom hierdie inisiatief; maar dit word gebruik as ‘n meganisme om ANC-lojaliste in munisipaliteite aan te stel. Ek kry byvoorbeeld baie klagtes van lede van die publiek dat hierdie werksgeleenthede net beskikbaar is vir ingeskrewe lede van die ANC.
One of the best ways to equip our youth for future employment, education and training is to lay the right foundation in Basic Education. One of the major concerns, which the Premier is silent on, is the fact that the Northern Cape has the worst retention rate of learners in the country. The numbers show that only 44.5% of learners enrolled in grade ten in 2014 in the province went on to write the National Senior Certificate examinations in 2016. What is this administration going to do to improve the retention rate?
Honourable Speaker, to give someone legal ownership of their home is to give them an economic asset they can use to improve their lives. For that reason, the Democratic Alliance welcomes the noticeable improvement in the delivery of title deeds over the past few years. But there is still room for improvement. We find, far too often, that officials are still playing politics with the issuing of title deeds. It happened in Colville. It happened in Roodepan. Intervention is required to prevent this politicisation of title deeds from happening again.
Honourable Premier, last year during my debate, I spoke about the challenges on asbestos eradication. This year, I am again obliged to remind you that not much progress has been done. Subsequent to that, the only conclusion I can draw is that your administration lacks the political will to address asbestos eradication.
Your administration also lacks the political will to reduce the reliance on consultants. Every year, consultants are appointed at municipalities and departments to the tune of millions to do the work that officials are employed to do. For example, 79% of municipalities were assisted by consultants in compiling their reports in the previous financial year. Why employ an official and pay him a salary if you also need to appoint a consultant to do his work for him?
Before closing, I want to reiterate the DA’s call for the urgent implementation of rural safety units. A case in point is the murder of a farmer in this area this week. It is intolerable that the government just sits by while rural safety, food security and job security is at risk.
When the Premier comes back to this podium, Honourable Speaker, she must engage constructively with the issues raised.
DA Provincial Leader in the Northern Cape
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