The new government administration will not tolerate the plunder of public resources and theft from the public purse. This was a vow by newly elected president Cyril Ramaphosa when delivering his first state of the nation address to a joint sitting of Parliament on Friday evening.
The theme of the speech was renewal and rebuilding but it was hard-hitting on corruption and state capture, and suggested that the country may have a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority soon.
“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people,” said Ramaphosa, who began his address by acknowledging the role played by his predecessor, outgoing president Jacob Zuma and for the manner in which he approached “this difficult and sensitive process”.
The process Ramaphosa was referring to was the “political transition”, which saw Zuma resigning on Wednesday night following a “recall” by the governing ANC and Ramaphosa being elected and sworn in as president on Thursday.
“I wish to thank him for his service to the nation during his two terms as president of the republic, during which the country made significant progress in several areas of development,” he said this to loud applause from the ANC benches and booing from the opposition.
Ramaphosa seemed to hit the right notes as he spoke about how critical the structure and size of the state was to be optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources. He then announced, to the longest applause, that he was planning to reconfigure the size and number of government departments.
“We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments,” he said.
The size of Zuma’s Cabinet was a sticking point – he had been accused of establishing government departments to create jobs for his friends and associates.
Ramaphosa also focused on cleaning up state-owned enterprises which, he said, were experiencing severe financial, operation and governance challenges that affected the performance of the economy and placed pressure on the fiscus.
“We will intervene decisively to stabilise and revitalise 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 added.
He said government was planning to take measures to ensure that all state-owned companies fulfilled their economic and developmental mandates.
“We will need to confront the reality that the challenges at some of our state-owned entities are structural – that they do not have a sufficient revenue stream to fund their operational costs.
“They 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 models and other measures,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the government was going to change the way that boards were appointed so that only people with expertise, experience and integrity serve in these vital positions.
“We will remove board members from any role in procurement and work with the Auditor-General to strengthen external audit processes.”
A man of the people: The words President Cyril Ramaphosa used in his state of the nation address on Friday (February 16 2018). Picture: Phelokazi Mbude
Ramaphosa said this would be the year in which the government would turn the tide of corruption in public institutions – from the criminal justice institutions which, he said, had been taking initiatives to deal effectively with corruption to the commission of inquiry into state capture headed by the Deputy Chief Justice, Judge Raymond Zondo, which was expected to commence its work shortly.
The commission, Ramaphosa said, was critical to ensuring that the extent and nature of state capture was established, that confidence in public institutions was restored and that those responsible for any wrongdoing were identified.
“The commission should not displace the regular work of the country’s law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting any and all acts of corruption.”
He said corruption, fraud and collusion in the private sector should be fought with the same purpose and intensity.
“We must remember that every time someone receives a bribe there is someone who is prepared to pay it. We will make sure that we deal with both in an effective manner.”
He urged professional bodies and regulatory authorities to take action against members who were found to have acted improperly and unethically.
Ramaphosa said he would urgently attend to the leadership issues at the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that this critical institution was stabilised and able to perform its mandate unhindered.