Opening address by President Nelson Mandela in the President's Budget Debate in the National Assembly, Cape Town

21 April 1998

Madame Speaker;
Honourable Members;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to be the first to open the debates on the budget appropriations.

In the State of the Nation debate two months ago, we emphasised that the central standard by which our government should be measured is the impact our policies and actions make in improving the lives of especially the poor and most vulnerable sections of our society. We emphasised the imperative of sustained growth for reconstruction and development. And we did not flinch from highlighting shortcomings in government that needed attention.

Judged by these criteria the current budget does indeed provide an instrument for taking us another step towards meeting the challenges we face as we enter our fifth year of freedom.

It does shift resources to the poor, through: real increases in social service expenditure; an increase in social grants, including pensions; more funding for Poverty Relief Programmes; and the establishment of the Umsobomvu Trust to invest in the development of young people.

The budget does promote growth and employment through the R3,7 billion put into people's pockets through tax relief and the funding of infrastructural capital investment.

Monies set aside for improving government's financial management, educational management and for improving our welfare information systems will fund concrete steps to eradicate problems experienced in the past.

More than that, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework extends these priorities over the next three years. It signals the integration of the goals of reconstruction and development within the day-to-day and year-by-year functioning of departments of state.

Honourable members;

It is now widely acknowledged that we have made substantial progress in delivery of improved social services, particularly to the poor and most vulnerable sections of our society. The apartheid political order has been irreversibly replaced by a democratic system the strength of whose institutions derives, in the first instance, from their legitimacy. The institutions of democracy are serving their purpose well. There is wide acknowledgement that we all need to put shoulders to the wheel to eradicate the legacy of apartheid. At the level of policy, no credible alternatives to those put forward by the government have been advanced to attain this objective. Debate is thus often about details of implementation.

It is in all these senses that we can say with confidence that the foundation for a better life for all has been laid; and that the building has begun and is steadily progressing.

And yet, honourable members, the more we succeed in setting up the basics and the more we succeed in making our institutions work to achieve the targets of reconstruction and development, then the more issues of quality will naturally come to the fore and the more they will demand our attention.

For example, we can, and do, take pride in the fact: that since 1994 on every single day, on average, 1 000 people have gained access to clean water and 1 000 electricity connections have been made; that each week has brought two new clinics on average with access to health-care for some 20 000 people; and that currently 1 000 houses are being brought into construction or completed under the subsidy programme every two and a half days.

But, while government's social programmes are indeed changing the lives of millions of the poor, we must also constantly ask how well they are doing so; keep constantly in mind those who are yet to be reached; and ensure that, so far as resources allow, we strive to provide the kind of services that increasingly improve the people's quality of life.

As our initial emphasis on planning and policy development gave way to an emphasis on implementation and delivery, so too we need to complement the imperative of broadening access with an insistence on constantly improving the quality of service.

We need therefore to ask ourselves: Are we providing services in good time; of the right quality; in the right place? Are the schools to which all our children have access equipped with text books? The clinics with medicines? As the Minister of Labour has become fond of asking; does water come out of the tap at the end of the pipeline that has been laid to the village where his mother lives?

Are the roads to the villages that are gaining electricity and telephones, in good condition? Do our administrative structures and the democratically elected councils command the skills they need to further the interests of those they represent? As we turn the tide against the criminals, are we doing so in a way that continually narrows the terrain of their future operations?

Making sure that these questions get positive answers will be best advanced by the active participation of communities in their own upliftment.

It will depend also on the engagement of those in each sector; teachers ensuring quality instruction in the newly accessible schools; students promoting a culture of learning; nurses demonstrating a commitment to the care of patients as we broaden access to health-care.

And it will be promoted by the readiness of all departments to maintain a continuous audit of the quality of the services they provide.

Honourable members;

It is in this context that government felt it necessary to establish the Presidential Review Commission. We did so as we gained a better understanding of the mess we inherited. As we set out to restructure our departments we had, at the same time, to conduct an audit of government as a whole, the better to provide quality service to the population.

The Presidential Review Commission was an instrument for all departments to make their inputs into this.

On receiving a copy of the Commission's report it was agreed that it should be released to the public once sufficient copies are available, and I have asked that this be expedited. In the meanwhile it has been referred to Cabinet with a proposal that an Interministerial Committee be formed to give the report the consideration it merits. An announcement in this regard will be made in due course.

Restructuring of government is a continuous and protracted process; and our programmes in this regard have not had to wait for the PRC. This applies, for instance, to the sphere of co-ordinating Government activities. A Policy Co-ordination and Implementation Unit has been formed in the Presidency; the Government Communications and Information Service is placing our communications and information system on a new footing; and a Director-Generals Forum has come into existence.

The PRC Report offers bold recommendations for further restructuring that may need to be undertaken. Our first impression is that some of these are of an immediate nature; some of a medium-term of long-term character; and some conditional on other things happening.

All the recommendations will be weighed against the actual experience we have gained and against the challenges of government as we have encountered them.

In doing so, we will need to keep in mind that good governance combines several requirements, including not only administrative efficiency but also political oversight as well as legitimacy which may depend on a recognition of a complex social and political dynamic.

Nor should we shrink from critical comment that may be contained in the report.

It is in that spirit that I myself have been even more brutally frank about instances in which my own office may be perceived to have fallen short. And lest those comments be misunderstood, there are two things I would say.

Firstly, I have deliberately set an example to other departments by maintaining a lean structure, and I take full responsibility for this.

Secondly, we are speaking about an office which strives for the highest standards of service, where failures are recognised as such but are the exception, and which prides itself on the support it gives to departments and its relationship with the public.

But it is true of our government as a whole that those called upon to give it direction within the new democratic system could not merely direct the old. We also had to create something new to replace it, in a process that is still continuing. In this situation, it was as inevitable that mistakes would occur as it was inevitable that where the old structures still exist, many of them would fail to cope with the new demands.

Nevertheless, we have achieved more in these four years than was ever dreamt of under minority government and set standards of service, openness and accountability that were unthinkable before.

Merely to improve on the record of a minority government, though, would be a very limited achievement for a democracy, and much needs to be done to improve our work.

Madame Speaker;

Several recent developments have underlined the strength of our democracy.

Media reports suggesting that a coup plot had been uncovered have turned out to be essentially without foundation, and based on the fulmination of an active imagination.

It may be well to take this opportunity to brief honourable members on the basics concerning the SANDF report which I received on 5 February and which had the title "Organised Activities with the Aim to Overthrow the Government".

1. Initial consultations within government raised questions about the report's reliability and lack of verification. These were still in progress when a leak of some of its contents made it necessary to establish with urgency the reliability of the processes of its compilation, verification and subsequent handling. The commission of inquiry appointed for this purpose reported to me at the end of March.

2. The intelligence report made the following claims:

2.1 that an organisation called "FAPLA" (Force African Peoples Liberation Army) had existed since 1995, and aimed to subvert the 1999 general elections

2.2 that it aimed to do so by assassinating the President; murdering judges; occupying parliament, broadcasting stations and key financial institutions; as well as orchestrating generalised disorder over a period of some four months before the elections. The culmination would be a campaign of attacks in which the present order would collapse and power handed over to the coup leaders.

2.3 Some 130 people are named in the report as the alleged organisation's members, leaders or supporters: they include very senior military personnel; political figures and others.

3. The commission's main conclusions are as follows:

3.1 The report was without substance and inherently fantastic. All the witnesses interviewed were sceptical about the existence of FAPLA. Even those compiling it appeared not to have taken it seriously - no serious attempt was made to keep the alleged plotters under surveillance and no attempts were made to properly authenticate the report.

3.2 Those responsible for compiling the report - over three years - failed to share it with the appropriate authorities, including the South African Police Service and the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee.

3.3 The commission was critical of steps taken to keep the report safe and prevent leaks.

3.4 those responsible for compiling and handling the report did not communicate it to the Ministers responsible for Intelligence; Safety and Security, who only gained access to it from the President after he received it from the Chief of the SANDF.

3.5 An allegation concerning a particular officer was communicated by the Chief of the SANDF to the Minister of Defence, but not the extent of the allegations; the identity of other senior officers alleged to be involved; nor the details of the conspiracy. The Minister of Defence said he was not prepared to communicate an uncorroborated allegation to the President.

3.6 The Commission concluded that such a report should not have been communicated to the President in the way it was. And it commented on the extraordinary procedure of a direct communication to the President and a deliberate avoidance to furnish the report to any other officials.

3.7 The commission recommended that the security agencies should investigate why the omissions and failures in the processing of the report took place and what can be done, if necessary legislatively, to avoid repetition in the future.

I acceded to the request for early retirement by the Chief of the SANDF as an act which put the national interest and that of the SANDF above his own. The leakage of the report and the critical comments of the Commission of Inquiry over its compilation and transmission clearly put the General in a difficult position in his relationship with the senior officers mentioned in the report and with his Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defence. Such a bold though regrettable step was therefore clearly warranted.

At its next meeting, Cabinet will consider the urgent question of the appointment of the new Chief of the SANDF.

As we put all this in perspective, it should be made very clear that our nation has a loyal defence force which has laid the groundwork for its own transformation; and that the government is fully committed to supporting it and equipping it as a valued asset of our democratic society.

Honourable Members;

I have dealt with this at some length, as part of a broader effort to ensure that the public is informed of the essence of the matter.

In accordance with accepted norms and practices concerning such information, neither the original Military Intelligence Report nor the Commission of Inquiry's Report have been made public. That approach is all the more compelling given that we are speaking of a report that is untested and inherently fantastic. It would be the height of irresponsibility for any government to peddle untruths and fabrications about people whose reputation could be harmed despite the lack of truth.

The public has a right to know that such matters as this are addressed thoroughly and scrupulously, through processes in which they can have confidence. The Commission of Inquiry fulfils these requirements. The briefing of parliamentary committees elaborates the process. I have also offered to release the Commission's report, with the removal of names of sources and other individuals mentioned, to the Joint Parliamentary Intelligence Committee.

But we have gone further still. In order to allow broader oversight, the reports were made available to the leaders of opposition parties.

It is instructive to note that it is those who opportunistically refused to look at the report who continue to call for its publication. At the same time they use the fact that they have not seen it to raise doubts about the government's trustworthiness.

This is a dangerous game to play with our intelligence services and raises the question of whether the legitimacy of the government is accepted by such people! Or maybe it is simply a reckless pursuit of party advantage, bringing self-appointed champions of democratic conventions close to abdicating their responsibility as political leaders. I myself, in dealing with this matter, have sought to act according to the assumption that all of us, in our respective political parties, share a common national purpose.

Indeed, there is a more general challenge here. As we approach the election period, parties will have to ask themselves some very basic questions.

It is only too easy to stir up the baser feelings that exist in any society, feelings that are enhanced in a society with a history such as ours. Worse still, it is only too easy to do this in a way that undermines our achievements in building national unity and enhancing the legitimacy of our democratic institutions. We need to ask such questions because it is much easier to destroy than to build.

Other recent developments have brought these observations to the fore, and the ease and suddenness with which the old fault-lines of our society can find debilitating expression.

We think, for example, of some aspects concerning the proposed inquiry into the affairs of the South African Rugby Football Union.

I will not comment on the legal proceedings, since there is likely to be an appeal against the judgement. The independence of the judiciary is one of the pillars of our democracy and equally fundamental is the commitment to abide by the decisions of the courts, whether they are in one's favour or not.

I wished by example to support that principle by obeying the summons to appear in court, despite the misgivings of my legal advisors. I appreciate the widespread support I received in this decision, and I take it as a sign of the strength with which the commitment to our constitution is entrenching itself in our nation.

I trust that all those who approved of my doing so will be equally strong in urging others to respect the law at all times.

Nevertheless the concern of my advisors is a real one. We do need to consider the constitutional implications of calling the President to court to defend executive decisions, and what the conditions are under which such an action is consistent with the objectives of our constitution. I hope that our finest legal brains, both in the courts and in the profession, will apply their minds to this question, and that yourselves, too, as constitution-makers, will do the same.

I do also hope that the broad support for our constitution which has been shown in this matter will prompt an enthusiastic participation in Constitution Week which is beginning on Sunday. The more people take part in it, the more it will succeed in its aim of ensuring that the rights which the constitution enshrines become a living reality for all our people.

What does give cause for deep concern, both in the developments leading up to the appointment of the Browde Commission and in the reception of the court's judgement, is how a sport which only three years ago became a world-wide symbol for our small miracle has once again become an icon of conflict, division and resistance to change. That is a deep disappointment to all those who have worked so hard and often risked so much in order to promote national unity and reconciliation through their support for our national rugby team.

Madame Speaker;

I dwell on these matters not only for their own importance. They are also related to what is widely acknowledged to be a certain weakening in the sense of a common national identity that we have been building since we began our negotiated transition. They are related to strains in the consensus we are striving to build as a nation.

And yet we also need to keep perspective. Within the achievement of a broad framework of national unity, and the overall allegiance to our new democratic order, these things are not in themselves a danger, nor do they add up to a crisis as some would have us believe.

Indeed in any society, let alone one emerging from a history such as ours, tensions and differences will constantly arise. They are the natural internal contradictions in an otherwise successful movement towards a better society. Sometimes they will express themselves openly; at other times they will continue to stir below the surface. It would have been foolish to think that we could avoid such difficulties on the way towards a better society.

The foundation for our success in building national unity has been laid. What matters is that we all work together in addressing such difficulties as may arise.

For its part, the government will continue to advance and defend the basic policy positions of the White Paper on Reconstruction and Development Programme. We will continue to work for a broad national consensus on all important matters relevant to national reconciliation and social transformation.

Of course, even as efforts go on to build such a consensus, the process of change towards a better society, already under way, continues.

Honourable Members;

As we seek to further expand access to our social services and improve their quality; as we find the ways of ensuring that our economic growth translates into more jobs; as we strengthen our unity as a nation, so too must we strive to consolidate and enhance the place we are defending for ourselves in the community of nations.

In an increasingly interdependent world, no country can prosper in isolation. The achievement of most of our goals depends on others achieving the same ideals or on co-operation between nations.

In that regard I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Deputy-President on his highly successful visit to Asia. It will not only contribute to the realisation of our economic goals, and bring benefits to Southern Africa and to the African continent. More broadly it will give further content to our sovereignty as a nation by helping to elaborate our relations with the world in such a way that our interests are not identified narrowly with only a few nations.

It is in that context that I intend as President during this, the last year of my office, to pursue a multilateral emphasis in my contribution to our country's foreign affairs.

Naturally the Southern African Development Community and the Organisation of African Unity are high on that agenda. The Non-Aligned Summit which we are hosting in Durban in September will be an opportunity for us to contribute to efforts to keep development issues before the international community.

Our relations with regional blocks of strategic importance to our future will be strengthened by possible engagements that I will have with the European Union; the Caribbean Community and Common Market; the Association of South East Asian Nations and Mercosur (the common market linking Latin American countries of the south).

Our participation in the UN's celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights will also be an opportunity for us to acknowledge the role which the international community made to our own achievement and its contribution to our future endeavours.

This I am confident will make a lasting contribution to our programme to build a better life for all South Africans and to play our part in promoting world peace and prosperity.

Honourable members;

If I have not addressed the whole range of government programmes and policies, it is because this is but the first of the debates on the budget. In the course of later debates Ministers will be accounting to you on the achievements of their departments and on their programmes for the coming year.

But I am confident that, as in the matters I have touched on, they too will report that the foundation for a better life has been laid, and that the building has begun.

Thank you!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website