Letters to the editor: June 12 to 18 2015

Rooms with a view: A reader says the public protector was ­undermined by Nathi Nhleko's report on Nkandla. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Rooms with a view: A reader says the public protector was ­undermined by Nathi Nhleko's report on Nkandla. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Nhleko shirked his duty

  Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko’s report on Nkandla is a serious infraction of the principle of constitutional democracy – and, importantly, of the accountability and oversight responsibilities of members of the Cabinet as given to them by the Constitution (Why Nhleko sweated buckets).

The Nhleko report undermines a key state institution supporting constitutional democracy – the office of the public protector. The public protector strengthens constitutional democracy and gives recourse to members of the public against impropriety by members of the executive. The public protector is empowered by the Constitution to investigate any misconduct in public or state affairs, to report that conduct, and to take appropriate remedial action.
The public protector made a very clear determination on Nkandla: that the president must pay for nonsecurity items.

The minister of safety and security and the minister of finance were required to apportion the value of nonsecurity items and advise the president on how much he is supposed to pay. They were not required to review the remedial action proposed by the public protector or to review her report. Nhleko failed in the simple task of calculating how much the president should pay.

Among the responsibilities of members of the Cabinet are to advise the president on matters of governance relating to their portfolios. Nhleko’s advice to the president on Nkandla is flawed and of very poor quality, not befitting a minister. It suggests that Nhleko is not equal to the task of being a Cabinet minister.

The report borders on illegality by overriding the public protector’s determinations, which the Constitution says only a court of law can do. The report has no constitutional standing. It is a shoddy piece of work. It lacks basic integrity.

Instead of choosing to safeguard public resources, Nhleko chose to please the president at the expense of our Constitution and our public finances. Clearly, our public finances are not safe in the hands of a minister who cannot master his oversight role. Both the president and the minister have a constitutional obligation to account to the public for their conduct in discharging their responsibilities. They owe it to the public to do the right thing. – Motsomi Maubane

The NDP is a comprehensive failure

  Ismail Lagardien is a PR man for the National Planning Commission and its National Development Plan (NDP). This suggests that his opinions on the NDP should be viewed with some caution (Wanted: One vision for a better future).

He claims not to be interested in “spin”, but rather to be concerned with the NDP’s merits, which he claims are self-evident. Then he devotes a good deal of his article to denouncing those questioning those merits. It would surely be easy, given a full page in the nation’s most prestigious newspaper, to explain such merits; he says nothing about them.

He is troubled by the fact that “pockets” of Cosatu are hostile to the NDP. These “pockets”, however, comprise the majority of the unions historically affiliated to the federation, and probably this scepticism about the NDP is shared throughout organised labour, but Lagardien prefers to jeer at the inadequate orthodontistry of a trade union leader.

It is natural and healthy for labour to distrust capital, and the NDP was developed by capital. It is also natural for labour to be suspicious of a government until it shows that it is sympathetic to worker interests, because governments are usually dominated by capital.

The foundation of the NDP was laid in 2006-2007, when the Mbeki government began an enormously expensive energy programme. Subsequently, the Zuma government added to this a still more expensive transport programme. The plan entails spending some R4-trillion, mostly given to foreigners or very large corporations, on securing regular power supplies for the mining and smelting industry and expanding capacity to send coal and mineral ore out of the country.

So how has this turned out? Not well. Since 2007, and increasingly since 2009, we have seen stagnant growth, rising unemployment, increasing economic inequality, substantial cuts in social spending, and considerable public discontent as a product of all these undesirable developments. Less visibly, we have also seen a rapidly rising national debt, high budget deficits, a steadily deteriorating currency and high trade deficits – none of these being signs of good economic management. It appears, then, that the NDP is a comprehensive failure.

Lagardien reassures himself that 80% of the elected representatives in Parliament come from parties that support the NDP. This is true, but Lagardien should consider that the public does not really like being poor, unemployed and stripped of social services, and so he should be surprised at such electoral decisions.

He acknowledges that most people don’t know what the NDP is about, and it is likely that most people who vote for the Democratic Alliance and the ANC are not doing so because of their bad economic policy proposals but for other reasons.

[The fact] that most South Africans don’t know anything about the NDP bothers Lagardien. He suggests it needs more publicists, and a “theory of change”; many people need to be hired and paid good salaries to develop such a theory. If you were selling a good product people wanted to buy, you wouldn’t need so much obfuscation in your advertising.

  Why not just develop a sustainable NDP based on making the economy grow, promoting employment, redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, and encouraging everyone to feel proud of their country and its government – and then implement it? One could do worse than go back to the Reconstruction and Development Programme, see which parts of it worked and which did not, and resume implementation of the working bits and develop new and improved projects to replace the non-working bits. – Mathew Blatchford, University of Fort Hare

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