President Jacob Zuma made a number of sweeping promises in his State of the Nation address on Thursday night, aimed at improving his government’s delivery of services to South Africans.
He told a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament: “This year, 2010, shall be a year of action. The defining feature of this administration will be that it knows where people live, understands their needs and responds faster.
“Government must work faster, harder and smarter. We expect the executive and the public service to comply with this vision.”
While Zuma highlighted his administration’s successes, he failed to acknowledge the failures of some of his big projects, such as the presidential hotline and the training layoff scheme that failed to attract companies planning to retrench workers.
The presidency admitted last year that the hotline was experiencing “teething problems”, with an average of only 33% of calls referred to national departments by November. In the first month of the hotline’s operation, only 12% of the calls opened for provincial response were resolved, 26% of calls in October and 31% in November.
Overall, only 18% of total enquiries lodged with provinces in the first three months of the hotline’s operation were resolved.
The government admitted recently that the layoff scheme had distributed less than R10-million of the fund’s R2,4-billion.
Department of Labour director general Jimmy Manyi said the scheme was in a state of “emergency”. The scheme had initially expected to distribute the entire fund by April.
The idea was to reskill workers facing retrenchment and pay them a training allowance equal to half of their basic salary, to a maximum of R6 239 a month, guaranteed for three months. Almost a million jobs were lost in the first three-quarters of 2009 and companies are still continuing to retrench workers, with no visible evidence that companies are buying into the scheme.
R846m on infrastructure
Zuma suggested that economic indicators showed the country was turning the corner, but added: “It is too soon, though, to be certain of the pace of recovery.”
He said R846-billion would be spent on building new state-owned infrastructure over the next three years.
Zuma announced that a separate operator would take over the running of the electricity grid, independently of Eskom. The new operator would be in charge of buying electricity supplies from all generators — both Eskom and the independent producers.
According to officials, this would remove the conflict of interest when Eskom buys and distributes power.
Although Zuma emphasised the need for laying the groundwork for stronger economic growth, he made mention of an industrial policy action plan. It is understood the plan was presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday, and will be presented in Parliament by Trade and Industry Minister Rob
Davies later this month.
He said that a R1-billion fund would be established to incentivise the private banking and housing sector to develop new products to meet the housing demand from people whose incomes were too high to qualify for a state subsidy, but not high enough to
qualify for a bank mortgage.
He said that 6 000 hectares of public land would be set aside for low income and affordable housing, and the government was working to upgrade informal settlements and provide proper service and land tenure to at least half a million households by 2014.
On education, Zuma said the government aimed to increase the number of matric students eligible for university admission to 175 000-a-year by 2014.
On health he is promising a “massive immunisation programme” which aimed to reverse the trend in which life expectancy at birth has dropped from 60 years in 1994 to just below 50 years today.
“Ministers who are responsible for a particular outcome will sign a detailed delivery agreement with the president,” he said. “It will outline what is to be done, how, by whom, within what time period and using what measurements and resources.” – I-Net Bridge