Tuesday, August 25, 2009

JZ’s first 100 days and beyond

By Onkgopotse JJ Tabane (TL)

A few things stand out when we look at Jacob Zuma’s first 100 days in office. There is clearly a willingness to do things differently, whether this translates into actual, recognisable government action is another issue all together.

The tone of Zuma’s presidency is, on the surface, that of a listening leader who involves stakeholders. You will recall that not so long ago Zuma was accused by many of singing a different tune to different audiences and never having a backbone on any matter other than to defer to the ANC. This song-and-dance approach to leadership has not really changed. Look at the bus rapid transit system mess, the service-delivery protests as well as the way in which opposition parties are treated in Parliament and you will realise that the efficacy of Zuma’s claims of an olive branch being offered to opposition parties and listening to communities more still needs to be tested — 100 days is perhaps too early to be conclusive about that.

The dictatorial approach in the SABC board appointments as well as the botched consultation process in the chief justice appointment are other examples of the road we still need to travel before we can say Zuma intends taking more than just the ANC praise singers on board in his administration.

In the civil service, a massive purge in under way. Directors-general suspected of being Cope sympathisers are being hounded out of their jobs by ministers who want Zuma to see them as being politically correct. Trumped-up charges are apparently on the cards to “deal” with these “disloyal” civil servants and to “teach them a lesson”. It is something that is happening with Zuma’s full knowledge despite his assurances that civil servants will not lose their jobs.

Business deals that rely on government funds are being cancelled where Cope business people are involved and there is an unwritten rule that if you desire a government contract you need to stay far away from those thought to be disloyal to the ANC. An atmosphere of heightened patronage has only deepened and it is shocking to see how many people high up in business are going along with this in order to secure their own business interests.

Working groups set up by the previous presidency have been abruptly dissolved. A good example is the youth working group convened by the former deputy president, task teams on the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa and the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition, and many other advisory structures that were never asked for a “closure or hand-over report” in many instances.

Zuma’s words that there will be continuity ring hollow as wholesale denigration of his predecessor’s initiatives is commonplace. The ANC tactic of keeping Zuma out of the implementation of this strange form of “continuity” fools no one.

Not even the religious community has escaped this bizarre logic — a new religious structure led by Zuma’s favourite pastor, Ray McCauley, has been set up without consulting the South African Council of Churches and Muslim Judicial Council among other structures. The religious leaders’ forum set up under Mbeki has been ignored in favour of what is feared to be a partisan religious structure assembled as a reward of some kind to McCauley for giving Zuma an exclusive platform in that popular church during the election campaign.

Zuma’s communications machinery is well-oiled. With lieutenants working flat out at Luthuli House and the Union Buildings, the media-statement factory is in full production. Flying on SAA, opening a hotline in a month, visiting a slumbering mayor unannounced, telling teachers they must pull up their socks — all of these are good gimmicks, the challenge is sustainability. But does flying on SAA once in a blue moon really save the taxpayer R1 million a month? That is being spent on Zuma’s security alone.

Credit must, however, be given to the media-statement factory that sees Zuma meeting stakeholders on all sides of town and really making a public impact. The Siyabonga string of rallies is also a good way of going back to the electorate. There is the danger there of spending too much time appearing as ANC president instead of president of all. This is what the PR machinery must manage very carefully. In this regard to appoint a discredited Vusi Mona and ask him to deal with his former colleagues, who have scant respect for him, was a bit of an off choice for chief of communications. But then again who are we to pre-judge. What I know is that being a good editor does not always translate into being a good communicator. Being a not-so-good editor even worse. One of the things you avoid as a communicator is being the story yourself. He had to ward off allegations of corruption on his first day at work. But then again, benefit of the doubt is deserved.

While on ANC PR matters, it is inexplicable that Gwede Mantashe can even attempt to justify shouting at ministers — he has inefficient provincial ANC secretaries of his own to manage; two have had to go down with their executives recently due to the total failure of those structures. Zuma should not allow Mantashe to shout at his ministers in pubic no matter how aggrieved the ANC secretary-general may be.

Finally, Zuma’s silence on crucial issues until it is too late is a trait he must get rid of. This was the downfall of his predecessor — speaking about things weeks later, when the water has passed under several bridges of public attention. In this regard Zuma’s failure to give Sbu Ndebele sound advice when he received an excessive gift as well as the failure to condemn the embarrassing threats to make the Western Cape ungovernable was a big let-down. The recent pouring of scorn over the youth league’s pontification on economic policy and non-racialism, however, is a welcome unshackling of Zuma from the stranglehold of the youth league’s petulance.

Is there HOPE? Indeed.

A few things stand out:

  • Corruption seems to be taking centre stage either way: Premier Mokonyane’s actions in Gauteng to deal with the Alex mafia seem to be a good example.
  • People like Trevor Manuel seem to be assisting the sinking ship although I have a funny feeling he is feeling out of place.
  • Ministers seem to be under pressure to perform — the threat of being held accountable seems to be real.
  • There seems to be the right noises on the economy. The ANC Youth League’s foolish rant about nationalisation seems to have been wholesomely ignored by both politicians and business people alike.
  • Intolerance levels seem to have subsided a bit after the elections — even in Parliament it is not that pronounced because the ANC seems to be enjoying the victory lap knowing they can outvote the opponents at every turn — there is no pressure for any intense debate really.
Let’s look at the next 100 days — concrete actions not PR gimmicks are needed:
  • Fire just one senior public servant for tender corruption — just one. According to the latest Scopa report there are more than 2 000 such civil servants to choose from.
  • Sign minister performance contracts and make them public. Prepare to fire just one minister, don’t ask them to resign by back door, fire them so that it is known that if you don’t work you get fired. You will have plenty of candidates in three months.
  • Fire a parastatal head, just one, without a crass golden handshake. Don’t get your ministers to say things like its OK not to make a profit and then not protect the ones that say if you don’t perform we will get rid of your burden from the fiscus. You have plenty of candidates to choose from given the parlous state of the parastatals.
  • Cut your security budget by half. A million rand a month is a bit too much. That would send a good example about excess.
  • When you reshuffle cabinet, cut it by a quarter and consolidate — the current one is a “Father Christmas is in town” cabinet.
  • Stop appointing politicians in technocratic roles.
  • Your police commissioner was a bad mistake. We will have to live with it but it’s more like refusing to learn.
  • Your chief justice is about to be another. Consult properly and make sure it’s an inclusive process. You may want to fire whoever is your legal adviser at the moment. They have simply embarrassed you by having to backtrack like that.

0 Opinion(s):