Nothing wrong with asking for public input in wage dispute: Senzo Mchunu
Public consultations are part of democracy, says public service minister
Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu has defended his decision to ask for public inputs in the standoff between the government and public service unions, saying there is nothing untoward about his request.
Mchunu has come under fire from unions, even those affiliated with the ANC’s alliance partner Cosatu, after he issued a statement recently calling on the public to come up with solutions to the impasse.
Government employees are demanding a salary increase equal to consumer inflation plus four percentage points. They are also demanding a risk allowance of 12% of the basic salary because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the government has tabled a 0% wage increase for the 2021/2022 financial year due to budget constraints.
“Please. Let’s be human beings, let’s not be hypocrites. In government, the first law in a democracy and even in a political system, is the people ... Some of the worst dictators tell you that they are doing what they are doing in the interest of people,” said Mchunu.
“Parliament, which is just another arm [of the state], each time they pass a law they do public consultations. No-one has gone out to ask why do they seek public opinion or accused parliament of failing and parliament must step aside for publicly consulting people because they are the first law.
“The executive has agreed on two bills from public service as a department, the Amendment Bill on Public Service Act and Public Service Management Act bill, where we are seeking amendments and cabinet said we can go and consult and we are consulting now.
“We are consulting, seeking and gauging their views, asking them to contribute on this aspect. So how do you say it is wrong to do so or suggest indirectly that it is wrong to do so?
“I don’t think we should be overwhelmed by emotions that we go through from time to time, in our areas of work, and then start distorting fundamental principles of governance in the republic. It would be a tragedy to do so.”
Last year, finance minister Tito Mboweni announced that the government would implement a three-year salary freeze in the sector to cut government spending by R300bn and bring ballooning state debt of R3.95 trillion under control.
When you fail to deliver services both in extent and in terms of quality and when you become generally corrupt and you pay a bribe for every service to the point that it gets to uncontrollable levels, then you are heading to a state of decay.Senzo Mchunu
Government workers have threatened to strike if their demands are not met.
Mchunu would not be drawn into commenting further on the negotiations, saying only that a facilitator was working on breaking the deadlock.
Maintaining that he did nothing wrong by making the unprecedented plea, Mchunu said consultations were common.
Mchunu said President Cyril Ramaphosa has consulted various leaders since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “Should we say that the president has run out of ideas and that he must step aside, if he no longer knows how to be the president of the republic and how to control the coronavirus? It is a fundamental issue that they are raising and it is not confined between me and them and around negotiations.
“This issue goes far beyond what they are talking about. I don’t think we must tamper with the fundamentals of SA just because it is negotiations.”
Mchunu said retrenchments were not on the table.
“While we have a problem of the wage bill currently, it has nothing to do with headcount. We are still short [of public servants] and we need to rationalise all these matters in a balanced way.”
He said the government is more than just an employer.
“The government must render services in health services, must service education, the private sector and the employees. We must also ensure the quality of the services that we render to the citizens. We must worry about informal settlements and electricity. It is not arrogance, to say so, it is pure fact and reality. That is why, in dealing with your resources, it is important to always remember fairness when distributing them.”
Mchunu said the department was heeding Ramaphosa’s plea to professionalise the public sector by ensuring that government employees are trained and qualifications audits are conducted to ensure that people are suitable to serve in their positions.
SA, he said, was not entering a post state capture era.
“When you fail to deliver services both in extent and in terms of quality and when you become generally corrupt and you pay a bribe for every service to the point that it gets to uncontrollable levels, then you are heading to a state of decay.
“When you get dominated in your political system by nepotism — for instance, every state department has someone’s aunt, uncle, girlfriend, boyfriend and there is no-one who is not linked to leadership — then the state has reached a state of decay. SA was very much on the road to political decay when the Zondo commission was established.”
In order for corruption to be uprooted completely, Mchunu said public service needed to be turned around.
“There are two things that are worrying us as we enter post state capture and corruption phase. We need to change the image because public service is characterised by citizens not receiving what they deserve, citizens begging public servants and government for services and they have become jittery.”
Mchunu said black people were on the receiving end of services of a lower standard.
“White people are associated with the kind of service that is world-class and therefore we still suffer very much the legacy of the apartheid era.”
Another concern, he said, is the capability of public servants to turn political statements into deliverables.
“The president says one thing one year and it becomes reality down another year. We are unable to churn this thing quickly. That is my main worry as minister of public service and the president tells me this.”