BUSINESS DAY TV: ‘The Constitution requires us to work together’
Barbara Creecy is Gauteng MEC for finance.
BUSINESS DAY TV: The Gauteng government says it will spend more than R250bn over the next three years to ensure access to higher quality public education and better healthcare services.
This was announced by the province’s MEC for finance, Barbara Creecy, in her medium-term budget policy statement, and she joins us now in the News Leader studio.
Barbara … those were the headline-grabbing sectors, I suppose, healthcare and education, but we don’t have particularly good outcomes in either education or healthcare and our question is: Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that money on infrastructure development which is more job creating than education or healthcare?
BARBARA CREECY: The Gauteng education department is one of the best; in fact, it is the best-performing department in the country. Over 75% of learners who start in Grade 1 make it through until matric. We also find that, of the remaining 25%, almost 20% go on to either two-bit colleges or some other form of post-school education.
So it might not be correct to say that we’re not getting bang for the buck, but let me also say that we are, over the same period of time, spending R4.8bn on infrastructure in the province. Obviously some of that would be on schools and hospitals but also our road network, housing, as well as some investment into economic facilities such as industrial parks, township hubs and so on.
BDTV: How do those spending priorities align with the spending priorities of municipalities? How much alignment is needed there to get bang for your buck, as you’ve put it?
BC: Obviously municipalities and province have slightly different mandates, because your municipalities would be primarily concerned with the provision of bulk services to consumers. Province’s primary mandate is to look after things like health, education, the road network and so on.
But you would know that Premier (David) Makura has developed a concept of economic corridors so that, in different areas of the province, we have different areas of economic focus and specialisation. Those economic corridors dovetail with the municipal boundaries and really relate to areas of city strength.
So, one of the things we would be doing together with the municipalities is working on that alignment, working on common areas of investment to stimulate economic development but also trying to make sure that, if we’re putting up a housing development, municipalities should be investing in the bulk infrastructure.
BDTV: I guess what we’re also trying to get to is whether or not all those plans dovetail politically-speaking, because you’ve now got the two largest metros in the Gauteng province being run by opposition parties. Is that going to prove to be a problem or are you actually going to be able to put your heads together, as the province and as the municipalities, and create best infrastructure and investment in the province?
BC: The Constitution requires us to work together and there are a whole number of forums where we have to synergise the work that we do.
So, for example, every MEC would convene a forum with their counterparts at local government level. The premier has something called the premier’s co-ordinating forum that represents all of the mayors. There would be lots of discussion there on development and financing, and municipalities also need support and help from the province. Lots of them face revenue-generation challenges, lots of them have challenges having sustainable budgets, and it’s not only the small municipalities that would face that; the City of Tshwane itself has a lot of challenges currently in terms of the sustainability of its budget.
I believe that, once the politics is over, we actually have to sit and work together. There’s no government in Gauteng that’s not going to say that economic development and job creation aren’t priorities.
BDTV: Sure, especially where you’re looking at a province like Gauteng, looking at an ever expanding migrating population, and that is one of the focal points. What kind of challenge does that pose to some of the budget you’ve outlined over the next three years, because one assumes that it changes or shifts the goalposts each year?
BC: Obviously, since I presented my budget last year, we’re talking about 500,000 people migrating into this province and clearly that puts enormous pressure on health and education services, and one of the implications is, for example, for the Department of Health; they can’t refuse to see a patient in a provincial health facility. So what it means is that they’d have to buy more medicines than they’d budgeted to buy. Our schools will have to buy more textbooks, more desks than we budgeted for and that puts a lot of pressure on the budgets of health and education, and it’s one of the issues that can from time to time result in accruals – invoices moving over from one year into the next.
BDTV: Last question, the Gauteng province recently launched the open tender system and it’s been piloted, as I understand, with two projects. In time, will all tenders be put through this open tender portal, and how is it working to date?
BC: The open tender system really is intended to re-establish public confidence in the public procurement system. It has a whole number of aspects, not just the open publishing of who has bid for tenders and for how much, but that we have a probity audit to make sure that all steps of the supply chain procurement process are followed. But the adjudication, the actual process of deciding who will be awarded the tender, happens in public.
The pilots that you talked about happened in 2014. Currently we’ve got 72 projects collectively worth R10bn going through the open tender system. And the auditor-general has said to us that it’s one of the factors that has decreased irregular expenditure in the province, and it’s also one of the factors that has led to the fact that all of our departments and entities got unqualified audits.