July 15, 2008

ANC flexes muscle with budget plan / ANC 'would accept' Zuma guilty verdict

The African National Congress (ANC) has drawn up a set of "medium-term priorities" in a bid to stamp its influence on the 2009-10 national budget when a new ANC government takes control after elections next year. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the priorities would ensure that the resolutions adopted at the party's elective conference in 2007 would be reflected in the government's programme of action as well as that of the new administration in the likely event that the party wins the elections.

The ANC and its alliance partners - the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) - drew up a raft of economic proposals at an alliance summit in May. If implemented, they would signal a major shift to the left when President Thabo Mbeki steps down next year. The proposals will come up for discussion at a tripartite alliance economic summit before the end of next month. The summit would also look at government departments' under-spending and the budget surplus, which Cosatu believes should be used to ease the social hardships of the poor majority. "The key issue is the problem of roll-overs where money is allocated but has not been spent," said Mantas he, "... any look at the budget surplus which we don't think is a right thing, must also be looked at in conjunction with the current account deficit, so the matter cannot be looked at narrowly."

The first indication of the government's preparedness to take the Jacob Zuma-led ANC's proposals on board will be Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's presentation of his medium-term expenditure framework in October. Mantashe said the priorities would also guide ANC members who would attend Mbeki's cabinet lekgotla from July 22- 24.

Economic growth and unemployment would be the overriding objective of the priorities, which would also include shaping other policies from trade and industry to the labour market and skills development. The party also wanted to build a developmental state which could "intervene in the economy in the interest of higher growth rates and sustainable development", it said. Another key area was improving the quality of education and health, especially for the poor, and reducing HIV/AIDS. The priorities also include improving housing, public transport and other basic services for the poor as well as significantly reducing crime.

In the meantime, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has announced that the ANC would accept a guilty verdict against its president, Jacob Zuma, on corruption charges but the judiciary had to ensure the public had no doubts about the impartiality of its decisions. Responding to media queries, Mantashe was firm that he would not publicly condemn ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, whose outspoken comments such as that he would " kill for Zuma" have caused public outrage. Mantashe said Malema was a young leader who had to be guided and allowed to develop out of the arrogance of youth to become a competent and confident leader.

On the judiciary, he said: "It cannot be acceptable for the honourable judges presiding over the cases of Jacob Zuma to create a hullabaloo to deal with a supposedly delinquent judge (Cape Judge President John Hlope) and drag those cases into a public debate." The issue of Hlophe, Mantashe said, should be dealt with by the judges in an internal process because "when the time arrives in the future and they make a pronouncement on the cases, that storm will loom larger than the actual pronouncement on the cases".

Mantashe dismissed fears that the ANC would erode the civil liberties it had fought so hard to achieve. The difference between the party and those who espoused liberal values was that the ANC believed the institutions created under chapter nine of the constitution should protect all rights equally and not just minority rights, as the South African Human Rights Commission was tending to do, he said. "We need to protect the chapter nine institutions from themselves. It is not what we say that will make society lose faith in them, it is what they do."

He said the ANC was beginning to examine national departments to ensure a smooth takeover of power by the next government and stop a lengthy period of paralysis after the election. The leadership of government departments would be looked at, as well as whether some departments should be unbundled or consolidated. ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, as a newly appointed cabinet member, would analyse how ministers and departments were performing. Mantashe said that formal announcements on the removal of the premiers of Eastern and Western Cape would be made once the ANC had finalised its plans for their redeployment. He said the interventions followed a discussion on five provinces by the ANC national executive committee that also included North West, Northern Cape and Free State. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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