DA policy head Gwen Ngwenya quits, accuses party of being 'more focused on billboards'

24 January 2019 - 12:09 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
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Gwen Ngwenya.
Gwen Ngwenya.

DA policy head Gwen Ngwenya has resigned from her position, citing unhappiness over  unfulfilled promises from the party's leadership, among her many reasons.

Ngwenya becomes the second DA policy head to step down from the position within two years following the resignation of Gavin Davis in 2017.

In a resignation letter addressed to DA leader Mmusi Maimane, Ngwenya accused the DA leadership of failing to support her unit, leaving her without a budget, and saddled with inexperienced staff.

"The resignation should not come as a surprise and you will be familiar with most of the reasons detailed below as they have been raised periodically since my appointment. I will, however, set them out here again for the sake of clarity and closure," reads the letter, dated January 18.

She complained that the terms of her appointment were never met, saying when she was approached to head up policy for the DA, she was assured that the unit would have the support of the leadership, be semi-independent and would be there to provide unfettered research-based advice.

"In addition, I would receive resources to fulfill the job, as well as the ability to recruit my own staff. None of these terms were partially, let alone wholly, fulfilled. Instead I was often hung out to dry in the face of unhappiness with policy within the party, there were untouchable policy areas, no budget was designated to the policy unit, and no additional staff could be hired," she added. 

"If these had been the terms presented to me from the onset, there is every likelihood I would not have accepted the offer." 

Ngwenya said that she was never given a job description, despite requesting one "on numerous occasions". As a result, she could not formalise her responsibilities and mandate.

"It is unfortunate to come to the realisation that I have never in any meaningful way been the head of policy; I was given all of the responsibility and none of the basic levers to do the job," she added.

Ngwenya said that the party's policy unit was staffed with researchers who could not meet the party's requirements.

"On my arrival I conducted a skills audit of the researchers in the policy unit. It was soon apparent that, for all of them, this was their first serious research job and that they had recently graduated from university. We were trying to extract from those researchers more than they could reasonably deliver.

"The policy offer for the national government in waiting should not rest on the shoulders of three inexperienced researchers."

She claimed that many senior leaders had expressed to her that the researchers were not up to the task, but she could not immediately dismiss them without placing the DA in violation of labour laws. She said the lack of budget affected policy development.

"There was the possibility to motivate for funds on a case by case basis, but it was made clear that only a small amount was available that could cover refreshments for workshops and so on."

She said this had resulted in there being no budget to meet with experts around the country, party constituents, to purchase data, reports, software and other things necessary to run a competitive research operation.

"There is no reason why the party cannot have a policy unit that rivals any of the think tanks from which we constantly seek advice. However, setting up such a unit will require a reasonable financial commitment from the party," she said.

"The party spends more on temporary billboards and other marketing than it does on developing a longer-lasting comprehensive policy blueprint for the country." 

She said that the DA had failed to sign off on drafted terms of reference to situate the policy unit within the party, and to outline how it interacted with other structures.

Party spokesperson Solly Malatsi thanked Ngwenya for the work she had done on developing the party's policy platform, which he said would culminate in the launch of an election manifesto. Malatsi said Ngwenya would move to the energy portfolio committee in the National Assembly.

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