/ 3 February 2009

Cape’s premier clean machine

After six months in the Western Cape premier’s office, Lynne Brown has still not made herself too comfortable behind the big desk, reckoning politics in this town is as fickle as the winds.

With only three months left before the ANC will announce her fate, she has, in her characteristically quiet and low-profile way, not only stopped the biggest land development project in the country — the Somerset Hospital precinct development — but is also in the process of cleaning up some of the province’s most contentious deals and schemes.

Deceptively soft spoken, Brown has moved aggressively against the legacy of her predecessor, Ebrahim Rasool.

She stopped the Sea Point pavilion development, which would have closed off the access of the public to the seafront and, within a week of moving into the premier’s office, she had canned the Erasmus commission, set up by Rasool to investigate alleged spying of the DA in the city. Brown suspended the chair of the youth commission, which had been created by Rasool, for allegedly misappropriating part of its R9-million budget. She has continued to bring into law the controversial provincial Liquor Bill, which aims to control illegal alcohol sales by moving against the suppliers rather than the shebeen owners.

She halted the Somerset Hospital development in mid December.

”Since its inception the tender-process around Somerset has been shrouded in rumours of nepotism and backroom deals,” Brown said.

”We stopped it and asked all stakeholders to go back to the drawing board. I firmly believe that public land should benefit the public at large, not some BEE group or already wealthy business groups,” she said.

This land is valued at more than R1-billion.

”State land and public spaces should be developed for the benefit of the province as a whole. There were simply too many stories that Somerset was discussed in hotel rooms while the process was not transparent.

”Like the Sea Point pavilion development, I firmly believe that local communities should benefit and not one or two stakeholders. ”You know as a kid and as a teenager we went from the Cape Flats to the pavilion to go and swim and walk — that’s where we went to the beach.”

Brown was controversially appointed premier after the ANC skopped her predecessor, Rasool, seven months after the Polokwane conference.

Rasool not only backed former president Thabo Mbeki in his bid to remain president for a third term, he was also seen to be playing a leading role in the factional politics that have been plaguing the ANC in the province.

Under Brown the ANC-controlled province and the City of Cape Town — controlled by the DA’s Helen Zille — started working together for the first time in years.

With a lot of hungry eyes focusing on her office from within the ANC itself and from the DA — which is confident that it will win the province in the next election — and with Luthuli House making it clear that she’s a caretaker-premier until the election, Brown says she’s never too at ease in her chair.

”The ANC asked me to be the premier for nine months. That’s all. The last six months has been the hardest months of my life and I’m definitely not getting enough sleep,” Brown said in an interview this week.

Canning the Erasmus Commission was her ”hardest decision”, she said. ”Rasool, who is my comrade in the ANC, drove that commission. I had to stop it because it was clearly illegal and very costly.” The estimated cost of the commission is about R8-million.

”That’s taxpayers’ money. We’re busy with our own investigation into this matter. I need to understand why the former premier continued with something which was, according to the courts, illegal.”

Brown is not known to raise her voice. She flattens her ”unruly coloured hair” throughout the interview. She is unashamedly proud of her achievements since she took office.

She has made herself no friends among the established business crowd in town.

”The provincial Liquor Bill is a major achievement for the finance minister [Garth Strachan] and the provincial government. Our communities — especially where I come from — desperately need this Bill. Alcohol is devastating our country and this Bill will help to curb this devastation. If it means coming to blows with the alcohol industry it must happen. I’m interested in good governance and when I leave this office projects must be finished and in proper working order.”