Budget Debate Vote 9

Government Communications and Information System, by Ms L Van Der Merwe MP
Honourable Speaker, Honourable Minister, Honourable Members of Parliament;

It is a privilege to participate in my first budget vote today, cognisant of our collective responsibility as the vanguards of South Africa's prosperity and wellbeing. Central to all we do, is communication. Communication is the tool through which we can correct the social injustices of the past. It is the very tool that can have profound effects in terms of enabling people to lead the type of lives, and attain the freedoms they have always dreamed of.

Let me therefore, from the outset, state that the IFP will support this Budget Vote because of the critically important role we believe the GCIS has to play in promoting an educated, informed citizenry.

We recognise that the leadership of the GCIS has made great strides over the past year. But I am sure the GCIS will accept that there is always room for improvement in the execution of its important mandate.

During a recent interaction with the leadership of the GCIS, I raised what I believe to be two critical issues: the need for a clear distinction, at all times, between the state and the ruling party and between information and propaganda.

There is no doubt that we live in a world of spin, where government PR is important. But it should never be more important than government's core business. This is clearly the more controversial aspect of this debate. We've seen the growth of government communications agencies in managing political debate, on controversial issues. We've seen citizens being fed a steady diet of good news stories, instead of a healthy diet of news to educate them - to enable them to freely make up their own minds on issues that affect their daily lives. We've seen a shift: a shift from providing information to the public, in the public interest, to the provision of a healthy dose of stories to make government look good.

A quick glance at Vuk'uzenzele is a case in point. Between all the stories of new courts opening, jobs being created, social grants being increased and government giving hope to the hopeless, which we welcome of course, I did not see one story educating our citizens on how to access their rights, if they were not the beneficiaries of these services.

Surely, when service delivery protests rock a community, when a child with a disability is not able to access education, or when a grandmother from a far flung rural area is not able to access transport or quality health care, it is not reasonable to provide these citizens with flowery feel good stories, only.

This is a matter that goes to the very heart of our democracy. Our citizens must be equipped with practical and useful information to better their lives. Information that empowers. Information that educates. Nothing less.

The IFP also notes that while the communication and information aspect of the GCIS at national level is satisfactory, the communication abilities of provinces and municipalities leave much to be desired. Many Thusong centres are in a state of disrepair, and are failing because no-one seems willing to take responsibility for their management, while there is often little buy-in from other spheres of Government.

Yet Thusong Centres are the very mechanism that has been put in place to communicate with ordinary South Africans. Without functioning Thusong Centres, the success of the GCIS to communicate its work to communities, especially rural communities, must be called into question.

A few examples bear testimony. The Mkhuphula Thusong Centre in Umsinga has no electricity. The Mbazwana Thusong Centre in Mkhanyakude has no centre manager, and provincial departments have failed to come on board. This has negatively impacted service delivery in that community.

We implore the leadership of the GCIS to engage all stakeholders in this regard, so that the failing centres can be resuscitated, as a matter of urgency.

Moreover, the sheer volume of publications produced by the GCIS also remains a cause for concern. Vuk'uzenzele is just one in a slew of GCIS media. Yet for many of these publications produced by the GCIS, readership figures are unclear and may be considered relatively unstable.

Thus, an excessive amount of money is being spent to print a variety of publications, the success of which cannot be verified. We believe the GCIS must review the effectiveness of each publication and determine whether it really reaches its intended audience, with the intended outcomes. For example: one can start by assessing how many of the glossy Public Sector Manager magazines distributed widely throughout the public sector and at Parliament are actually read, and how many of them are simply dumped.

In a country such as ours, where the majority of our adult population has access to cell-phones, it makes sense to communicate with our citizens via mobile platforms.

This will be a step in the right direction to ensure that we reduce printing costs, and wastage, as the dumping of undelivered and unread publications nationwide, is without a doubt a major problem. The move to mobile and internet platforms must be expedited. I also note that, even though an online platform for the flagship Vuk'uzenzele magazine exists, it is outdated. The most recently listed are from last year.

The Media Development and Diversity Agency continues to make great strides in developing community media. The importance of community media can never be underestimated. Not only does it often give a voice to the voiceless, but it can have a profound effect in many instances on the development of communities. We applaud the good work being done in this regard.

Colleagues, we know that an informed electorate is critically important to deepening our democracy. The IFP therefore pledges our support to the GCIS, in pursuance of this fundamental, national goal.

I thank you.

Source: PMG

15 May 2013 10:07