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Cosatu Versus Manuel: The Rules Of Engagement

Cosatu concedes that it is involved in what it describes as “an argument” with Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Planning in the Presidency. Some commentators have used the appellation “fight” and others “something of a panic attack in Cosatu” to characterize what is unfolding in the tri-partite alliance which has governed since 1994.
The cause of the trouble is the publication of a green paper aimed at creating new ways of implementing policy better called the Green Paper on National Strategic Planning. This ought to be a no-brainer. It is surely clear that in these troubled economic times any successful strategy for better co-ordination, planning and implementation of the policies of the day is indicated. However, Cosatu sees the green paper (no more than a discussion document) as the open sesame to the creation and promotion of an imperial Prime Minister in the Presidency, to whit, Trevor Manuel. The fear is that the far more junior new Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, will be sidelined by the super-ministry of planning to the detriment of the interests of Cosatu and its members. There are memories of how the Mbeki administration force-fed the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy to those of leftward persuasion and there appears to be a determination to avoid a repetition of their being left out of the decision making policy processes.
It would be prudent to take a step back from the heat and dust of battle and have regard to the rules of engagement that are applicable to the interaction and concerns which are driving the conflict. In the first place it is appropriate to draw attention to the provisions of section 97 of the Constitution. It sets out that:
The President by proclamation may transfer to a member of the Cabinet –
(a) the administration of any legislation entrusted to another member
(b) any power or function entrusted by legislation to another member.
This power to transfer functions resides with the President, not the Planning Ministry or anyone else. If Minister Patel is in danger of being sidelined, only the President is constitutionally empowered to do so. His is a new ministry and how to carve up the functions in relation to economic development is the responsibility of the President. At present the Minister of Finance has political control of the treasury.
It is also worth noting that all members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions (as assigned to them from time to time by the President). They have to report to Parliament fully and regularly on all matters under their control.
As far as policy on the economic front is concerned, Chapter 13 of the Constitution in seven brief sections sets out how general financial matters are controlled. In broad terms all revenue is paid into the national revenue fund and may only be withdrawn in terms of an appropriation by an Act of Parliament or as a direct charge provided for in the law. The equitable division of revenue raised nationally is also the business of Parliament. The national treasury is a creature of statute in which transparency and expenditure control in each sphere of government is prescribed. Budgets at national, provincial and municipal level must promote transparency, accountability and the effective financial management of the economy, debt and the public sector. Procurement in the public sector must be done in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective. As these are constitutional obligations, any conduct inconsistent with them is invalid under the provisions of section 2 of the Constitution.
In the short time that there has been a Ministry of Planning it has come up with the green paper and working closely with another new Minister, Collins Chabane, the Minister for Performance Management Monitoring and Evaluation, also situated in the Presidency, has produced another green paper called “Improving Government Performance: Our Approach” in which the “how to” of this new broom sweeping clean is set out in some detail spanning 22 pages.
Minister Patel’s office has been tacked on to the Department of Trade and Industry and survives with a skeleton staff. He has not produced any green paper (or anything else that has caught the public eye) and there appears to be some uncertainty as to where exactly economic development is going to be placed in the mega-cabinet that was created by the incoming government to accommodate as many of the new President’s influential supporters and helpers as possible. There have been reports that the President is now seeking legal advice on the way out of the bind which is developing because of Cosatu’s perception that its champion, Minister Patel, is being sidelined in such jockeying for positions of influence which may possibly have accompanied the restructuring of the Cabinet.
In all of this, sight should not be lost of the fact that Ministers Manuel and Chabane are located in the Presidency because their new ministries have to do with a lot more than the economic policy issues about which Cosatu is so concerned. Planning has to do with the implementation of policy across the board and throughout all government departments. In the green paper signed by Minister Chabane the key priorities are identified in a way that echoes the election manifesto of the ANC led alliance: education, health, jobs, rural development and safety. The focus of his green paper is education and the improvement of basic education is used as an example to illustrate the modus operandi which the ministry intents adopting in order to improve government performance and with that service delivery. It says in so many words:
This paper complements the Green Paper on National Strategic Planning which defines the process through which medium and long term plans will be produced in future. The two papers envisage reforms which together will facilitate implementation across all spheres of government.
The central role of Parliament in making the laws which give legal expression to the policies of the government of the day is also not to be overlooked in the heat and dust being generated because Cosatu fears a repetition of the 1996 class project which saw the introduction of GEAR against its wishes. Economic development is but a part of the overall economic policy of the government. It seems appropriate that the Minister of Economic Development should be housed with Trade and Industry rather than the type of ministries run in the Presidency by Ministers Manuel and Chabane.
Paul Hoffman
October 2009

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