Mabuyane – ready to serve in any capacity

Oscar Mabuyane is the most powerful politician in the Eastern Cape, as he controls the ANC in the province and the government purse. Senior political reporter ZINGISA MVUMVU asks Mabuyane the tough questions

ZM: The provincial cabinet reshuffle happened and you went for the money. Why?
OM: I cannot say why this portfolio because I never chose it but I was given a responsibility.
Luckily for me this is a space not far from my personal interests for public contribution. Both treasury and tourism and economic development are departments I have been [involved in], albeit not as a political principal but when I started working, I worked in that space. I am humbled by the responsibility given by the ANC.
ZM: You have about 12 months before the next election. Is it enough time to make a meaningful change?
OM: We will just be bringing innovation from a leadership point of view but nothing will fundamentally change in terms of the programme and agenda of the Eastern Cape government. I say this because the programme emanates from the ANC manifesto, which made the ANC win the hearts of our people in 2014.
So we will basically try to push all things the ANC promised in these five years to ensure that things that could be done in a week we must do in a day, things that can be done in a month must be done in a week. That is quite important because we do not have the time that others had.
ZM: You talk of the need for urgency in a limited time. Unlike others, you are the political head of multiple departments – how are you going to cope?
OM: We do have capable individuals who are leading those departments at a bureaucratic leadership level.
I think for me it is just to get people to produce more. It is to get them to understand that they are worthy to be there so as to create that sort of responsibility that workers must work, managers must manage, leadership must lead.
ZM: There is a general perception that corruption is forever thriving in this province. You now control both the ANC and the provincial purse. What is your view of that perception?
OM: We need to confront the issue of corruption. I have told my colleagues in both departments that when workers decide not to be involved in issues of corruption, we will not have to speak about the issue.
I have never seen leaders punching passwords into computers to release transactions. So any employee who is instructed to process a dodgy transaction, that employee must be careful about whether it is by the MEC or a senior manager.
We need to end corruption because it is the antithesis of any development. You cannot talk of a development trajectory when corruption is the order of the day.
ZM: There is also the issue of non-payment of service providers, in particular emerging business people, by the provincial government where it is alleged in some cases that those with the power to process payments demand kickbacks. Are you aware of this and if so what are you going to do about it?
OM: An unresearched allegation is that sometimes when government cannot pay within the stipulated 30 days it is because of these kinds of white collar crimes, where I must process this transaction because you are going to give me something.
But I am happy that a number of departments are dealing with this in a more systemic way to ensure that we detect those things on time.
ZM: You came into the provincial government to lead these two departments after all departments were given their slice from the provincial fiscus. Would you have done it any differently in terms of the piece of pie each received?
OM: The budget of the province is not a one-man show, it is a collective responsibility. It is a culmination of a very intense interaction between departments. It is also the responsibility of individual departments to justify why they need that money against what is being offered.
What we ought to change, though, is the conventional method of always relying on the baseline budgeting system rather than following what is needed according to the mandate of the ANC manifesto into this administration.
The unhappy part is that we should have had more money for agriculture, the ocean economy and tourism, as they constitute key elements that can be explored to induce our economy.
These should be used as catalysts to ignite and unlock our economic development potential as a province.
We also need to strengthen inter-governmental relations so that we are able to complement each other as provincial, national and municipal spheres of government, instead of creating unintended competition.
ZM: The AG recently told us that we have some of the worst municipalities with regard to irregular expenditure, some of which are on the brink of collapse. What role can provincial treasury play to salvage the situation?
OM: The government of the people by the people for the people is anchored in transparency, responsibility and accountability principles.
There is no way that you will earn respect if you cannot account properly on what you are entrusted with by the people, especially on their public purse. It is not making us happy that our municipalities are failing.
We believe the major cause is political instability, which is [created] by politicians to cause chaos, which is something we need to address.
Also, people who are in government must think beyond political party boundaries because you are governing for all South Africans.
We are not going to tolerate mediocre and poor performance.
You have municipalities relying on consultants because they are unable to produce basic things like financial statements, which can be done by interns.
We need to go back to basics, and from a treasury point of view, we do have the municipal support programme that must also see to it that we jack up our systems and pull up our socks so that we can see value for money at our municipalities.
ZM: But what is the ANC practically doing to end the ’mediocre and poor performance’ that you are alluding to in our municipalities?
OM: Politically we have taken a very hard stance to say we must stop this thing of tolerating poor performance and creating political stories around it.
If you fail as a mayor, you should not be taken elsewhere.
Rather, you must fall on your sword – end of story.
This will help so everyone understands that deployment is a privilege that you should be scared of and respect because it is an office that belongs to the people, not you and your family.
ZM: As the ANC boss in the Eastern Cape, do you believe the provincial executive council reshuffling was necessary? Because the term is almost finished, so to some people it should not have been changed.
OM: The ANC wins elections, not individuals.
When the ANC cannot work properly and cannot prevail on individuals it has sent to serve our people, the ANC has every right to intervene and act on that, and that is what we did.
All of us must respect the ANC and none among us must use it for their personal interests and be arrogant when the party says you are not doing right.
If you undermine the ANC, you will find the ANC will not allow itself to be blackmailed and disrespected by individuals.
The ANC can reshuffle even if you are left with a month if it feels you are doing things that do not contribute to the unity of the ANC because you are a threat to the revolution itself.
ZM: Was it a performance-based reshuffle though, or political?
OM: I will not be talking to that because there are systems that say you must have quarterly and annual assessments of individuals which allows you to package any intervention at an appropriate time.
But the intervention can be politically-informed ... but when things started to go completely wrong with individuals becoming [more] powerful than the ANC, we were compelled to tackle that situation.
ZM: We also know that as a consequence of the outcomes of the ICC ANC provincial conference there was disagreement and tension between yourself and premier Phumulo Masualle for a very long time. The two of you are now in the same provincial government. How are the relations?
OM: The leadership elected at the ICC is the leadership the ANC deserves and it must be respected and accorded the opportunity to lead and be supported by all.
The premier is a very seasoned leader so he understands exactly, for he has been around for a long time, serving in all spheres of government at a provincial level.
He is also a national leader as an NEC member of the ANC. So I do not think leadership is a problem to him.
We are all matured at that level and understand that government is not about our own organisational dynamics. We respect him, he is our premier, so we work with him.
What is important is that mutual respect because the authority is in the PEC over the provincial government of the ANC. The premier is a leader and the power is with him, that is not the problem and we do not think ICC in cabinet meetings.
ZM: Finally, the ANC has a tradition of appointing provincial chairmen to become premiers of their respective provinces. Next year we are going for the national and provincial elections, are you ready to be the Eastern Cape premier?
OM: I do not know where that culture comes from. I never knew I would be the chairman of the ANC in the province. It is a privilege to serve.
I do not harbour ambitions to be anything else. I can be an MP, I can be an MPL or anything, so I am forever ready to serve.
I can even be a full-time chairman of the ANC, which I have suggested to comrades, to run around the province building the ANC structure for an ANC that is focused and coherent towards the realisation of an ANC that knows what it is supposed to do in government, not one that is patronised and hijacked by factions and which finds itself wanting in government. —

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