Cape Town – Time could be up for certain people at state institutions, as President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised strong action against corruption in his maiden State of the Nation Address, which he delivered on Friday.
Ramaphosa entered a jovial and relaxed National Assembly just before 19:00 on Friday to the customary standing ovation, following Parliament’s presiding officers.
The mood in the Assembly, however, did not deter him from taking a clear, firm stance on his plans to end corruption at state institutions and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as well as the private sector.
Those who got in the way would be dealt with.
“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions,” he told a packed joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.
“The criminal justice institutions have been taking initiatives that will enable us to deal effectively with corruption.”
At this, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs, led by Julius Malema, started chanting: “Aaaaaaaaaaace,” aimed at ANC secretary general and Free State Premier Ace Magashule, who has been embroiled in the Vrede dairy farm project investigation.
“We must fight corruption, fraud and collusion in the private sector with the same purpose and intensity,” he continued.
“We must remember that every time someone receives a bribe, there is someone who is prepared to pay it.
“This requires that we strengthen law enforcement institutions and that we shield them from external interference or manipulation.”
As a result, he would “urgently attend” to the leadership issues at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to ensure it was stabilised and able to perform its mandate unhindered.
In December, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered Ramaphosa to appoint a new NPA head to replace National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams.
The South African Revenue Service was in the firing line as well.
“We must understand that tax morality is dependent on an implicit contract between taxpayers and government that state spending provides value for money and is free from corruption.”
At the request of the Minister of Finance, he would appoint a commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance of SARS.
When it came to the ongoing social grants crisis, Ramaphosa made a personal promise to ensure that the Constitutional Court’s directives were adhered to.
“I want to personally allay fears of any disruption to the efficient delivery of this critical service, and will take action to ensure no person in government is undermining implementation deadlines set by the court.”
At this, he received another standing ovation.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was once again absent from the House, having missed Ramaphosa’s election on Wednesday.
He also suggested that he could possibly reduce a bloated Cabinet – a common criticism of the Presidency during the Jacob Zuma era.
“It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources.
“We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.”
Malema and his colleagues once again started taunting the current Cabinet ministers from their benches.
Eskom ‘just the beginning’
Most notably, Ramaphosa promised intervention in procurement processes at state-owned enterprises.
“The recent action we have taken at Eskom to strengthen governance, root out corruption and restore its financial position is just the beginning,” he said.
“These SOEs cannot borrow their way out of their financial difficulties, and we will therefore undertake a process of consultation with all stakeholders to review the funding model of SOEs and other measures.
“We will change the way that boards are appointed so that only people with expertise, experience and integrity serve in these vital positions.
“I want to repeat this. We will remove board members from any role in procurement and work with the Auditor-General to strengthen external audit processes.”
Ramaphosa ended his speech by evoking the memories of both former president Nelson Mandela and the late, great musician Hugh Masekela.
South Africans were emerging from an anxious period, but together, they could make history, he said.
“We have done it before and we will do it again – bonded by our common love for our country, resolute in our determination to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and convinced that by working together we will build the fair and just and decent society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.”
He concluded by quoting Masekela’s song Thuma Mina, which anticipated a day of renewal and of new beginnings.
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around. When they triumph over poverty. I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS. I wanna lend a hand. I wanna be there for the alcoholic. I wanna be there for the drug addict. I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse. I wanna lend a hand. Send me.”
“Now is the time to lend a hand,” he emphasised.
“Now is the time for each of us to say: ‘Send me’.”
The lyrics brought the entire National Assembly to its feet as the new president off the republic walked of the podium just before 20:30.
Standing ovation for #Ramaphosa as he quotes beautiful lyrics from the late, great Hugh Masekela in his song “Thuma Mina”: a call for renewal by all SAcans. “I wanna be there when the people turn it around. I wanna lend a hand. Send me.” #SONA2018 (@PaulHermanCPT) pic.twitter.com/pnrK5Vcm8i
— Team News24 (@TeamNews24) February 16, 2018