February 8, 2008

President’s state of the nation address: focus on energy, justice, economy and housing

President Thabo Mbeki has called for national unity and acknowledged citizen's concerns and fears about their future, in the light of the energy crisis, the criminal justice system and economic worries. Speaking to a joint sitting of Parliament as he delivered the State of the Nation Address, President Mbeki said: "like all the Honourable Members, I am aware of the fact that many in our society are troubled by a deep sense of unease about where our country will be tomorrow. They are concerned about the national emergency into which the country has been thrown by the unexpected disruptions in the supply of electricity." Addressing dignitaries, the President referred to concerns over developments in the criminal justice system, the prosecution of the National Commissioner of Police Jackie Selebi and the suspension of the National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli.
He announced that a set of changes would be implemented to revolutionise South Africa's criminal justice system “to a new, modernised, efficient, and transformed entity. Among other things, this will entail setting up a new co-ordinating and management structure for the system at every level, from national to local, bringing together the judiciary and magistracy," Mbeki said. Among these changes, the President said the functioning of the South African Police Service, prosecutors, correctional services and the Legal Aid Board, would be improved.
Government's long standing belief in the importance of involving communities in safety initiatives was borne out of President Mbeki's commitment to empower Community Police Forums. He acknowledged that the country's progress in fighting crime had not been enough for people to feel safe and secure; therefore, he committed the government to working harder and smarter this year. However, he noted that the country's success in the fight against crime depended on co-operation among all law-abiding citizens.
In the economic sphere, President Mbeki acknowledged concerns on food and fuel prices and possible impact on our own economy of the threat of economic recession in the United States. However, the President used the opportunity of the State of the Nation Address to call on the nation to act collectively to overcome these challenges. "Let me therefore make bold to say that this historical moment demands that our nation should unite as never before and strain every sinew of its collective body to address our common challenges and keep alive the dream that has sustained all of us as we travelled along the uncharted road towards the creation of the South Africa visualised in our Constitution."
Quoting an address at a recent mining conference by Cynthia Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of mining giant Anglo American, President Mbeki said: "This is not a time for finger pointing, but for working together in finding solutions." With particular reference to the energy situation, the President apologised to all citizens for the load shedding in recent months. "This having been said, it is however also necessary that we take this opportunity to convey to the country the apologies of both the Government and Eskom for the national emergency which has resulted in all of us having to contend with the consequences of load-shedding. I would also like to thank all citizens for their resilience and forbearing in the face of the current difficulties."
The Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel is expected to provide more information in the Budget speech later in February, on the support that the government will provide for the energy efficiency campaign and to Eskom. Mbeki also announced that the government would soon start implementing a campaign to ensure efficient lighting, solar water heating and geyser load management in households, including housing standards for all new houses and developments. "We urge households that can afford to act immediately to consider implementing these energy-saving measures," said Mbeki. He added that the details of other voluntary and mandatory actions in the Power Conservation Programme have been set out by ministers and these will be refined through consultation with the various stakeholders before being published.
He also stated that an agreement has been reached with the South African Local Government Association to place a moratorium on the sale of land that can be availed for building more houses. Government intends to intensify the campaign to identify specific households and individuals in dire need and to put in place interventions that will help, in the intervening period, to alleviate their plight, President Thabo Mbeki said during his State of the Nation Address. "In the programme to provide sustainable human settlements, we are now able to provide 260.000 housing units per annum."
In 2007, the government established the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) in an attempt to speed up delivery of land and housing by administering many of the functions related to the distribution of these vital assets. The SPV is a state-owned organisation, whose purpose is to acquire, manage, develop and dispose land for all land reform purposes. Since 1994, government has supplied over 2 million low-cost houses.
Mbeki also said progress has been made and a variety of interventions would be taken to reduce poverty. Some of the proposed interventions include expanding the public works programme, employment subsidies for direct job creation for targeted groups, enhancing employment search capability, improving education and training, improving services and assets among the poor communities. The President also said this year special attention would be focused on previous shortfalls such as the processing of the Land Use Management Bill, the finalisation of the land restitution cases, the support programme for those who acquire land, and developing and implementing a determined rural development programme. The President also called on government departments to come together and help alleviate poverty.
"... this will require a National War Room for a War Against Poverty bringing together departments such as Social Development, Provincial and Local Government, Trade and Industry, Agriculture and Land Affairs, Public Works and Health as well as provincial and local administrations," the President said. (BuaNews, Tshwane)

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