Let’s clean up our country – Ramaphosa

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ANC MP Vatiswa Bam after the 2019 Sona in Cape Town, 7 February 2019. Photo: Tracy Lee Stark

While last year’s state of the nation address was an attempt at reconciliation, last night’s was a statement of intent, with President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing far-reaching plans to clean up the state’s faltering law enforcement and other agencies and civil service.

The president’s address appeared to point to a desire to overhaul not only the country’s ailing state-owned enterprises, but also its security cluster, which suffered tremendous losses of credibility in recent years.

“Watch this space,” Ramaphosa said, promising the appointment of new National Prosecuting Authority head Shamila Batohi would lead to “the revival of the NPA, and to strengthen our fight against crime and corruption”.

“In response to the dire situation at several state-owned enterprises – where mismanagement and corruption had severely undermined their effectiveness – we have taken decisive measures to improve governance, strengthen leadership and restore stability,” Ramaphosa said.

“We have also had to deal with the effects of state capture on vital public institutions, including our law enforcement agencies.”

The president promised he would be reconstituting a “professional” national intelligence agency, which would include domestic and foreign intelligence.

He also announced the implementation of an “investigating directorate” to deal with serious crimes of corruption.

The directorate is expected to identify priority cases to investigate and prosecute and will recover assets identified to be the proceeds of corruption – harkening back to the structure of the disbanded Scorpions unit.

These interventions would hopefully strengthen the capacity of the security cluster to ensure that SOEs, which have been crippled by corruption, can operate efficiently.

Those hoping for an unbundling of Eskom, which is by far the most indebted SOE and has been implicated in countless instances of alleged corruption, would have been disappointed though, as Ramaphosa said government would support Eskom.

Further details, he said, would be provided by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni during the budget speech.

“Security of energy supply is an absolute imperative,” Ramaphosa said. “Eskom is in crisis and the risks it poses to South Africa are great.”

While he said work on the reconfiguration of the state was at an advanced stage, he also acknowledged it would not be an easy task to get things running smoothly.

“The task before us is formidable. Above everything else, we must get our economy working again. I call upon every South African to make this cause your own, because when we succeed – and of this we are certain – it is the entire nation that will benefit.”

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Reactions from the opposition

  • The Good party leader Patricia de Lille said while Ramaphosa had said many good things, he had also painted a glorified picture of the country. “I couldn’t help but feel the disconnect between the reality on the ground and what he was speaking about.”
  • De Lille’s advice to Ramaphosa was to take the new plans and give to a minister who would be held accountable.
  • DA chief whip John Steenhuisen expressed interest for the NPA’s soon-to-be realised investigative ability. “We have to stop talking commissions; we have to see people going to jail.”
  • Regarding Eskom, Steenhuisen said he would have liked to have seen more industry players brought to the table which would help create jobs and benefit the consumer.
  • “It’s no good unbundling Eskom and then keeping it as a government monopoly. The only way you can introduce efficiency is by allowing the private sector to enter the industry.”
  • EFF leader Julius Malema also gave Ramaphosa a somewhat backhanded nod of approval, saying “he abandoned the ANC manifesto, and plagiarised the EFF manifesto”. He claimed Ramaphosa stole his ideas on early childhood development, human settlements, and others, from the red berets.

Amanda Watson & Earl Coetzee / The Citizen