In A Province.

January 27, 2012

The decision by the Zuma administration to intervene in the administration of certain provinces in South Africa is interesting in itself, but is also interesting for the response it has received from the corporate propagandists.

The central state has imposed its own governors on one department in each of three provinces — Eastern Cape, Free State and North-West — and has imposed its governors on no less than five departments in the Limpopo province. What this means is that the administration of those departments is no longer responsive to the wishes of the democratically-elected government of those provinces, but instead responds only to central administration. This is remarkably similar to the way in which unelected governments were imposed on Greece and Italy by the European Union in order to pursue policies which the people of those countries did not desire.

Why has this been done? The four provinces in question had all revealed that they faced a substantial budget deficit at the end of the financial year. Obviously, such a deficit is undesirable, since it means that the central government, which funds essentially all provincial spending, would have to borrow money to sponsor the deficit, meaning that the central government would have a higher deficit than anticipated. This, in turn, would mean that the national debt would rise more rapidly than anticipated. Obviously it would be better that this did not happen. The installation of central administrators is supposedly intended to reverse this.

But why did the provinces run up such high deficits? In fact, all provinces, not just the four identified as the enemy by the Zuma administration, have suffered substantial deficits this year. The reason is not hard to see: the amount of money provided for them by central administration was inadequate to deal with both the continuing demands of service provision, and the demands created by central government when it granted a massive increase in civil service salaries (which are predominantly paid by provinces). In other words, the deficits were made essentially inevitable by the policies of central government, particularly the Ministry of Finance.

In that case, how can imposing administrators on provincial departments possibly reduce these deficits? Theoretically, because such administrators are not beholden to the people in the provinces, they can take unpopular decisions. Supposedly, one of these unpopular decisions would be to root out corruption, which is supposedly rife in provincial governments.

What the investigators are actually doing is confusing corruption with maladministration and with failure to fill in the proper forms in correct detail. Identifying forms improperly filled in is the speciality of the Auditor-General, whose “qualified audits”, when closely scrutinised, invariably entail failure to fill in forms or provide adequate documentation. This is a worthwhile activity, insofar as it shows a useful place to start investigating to see whether there was any illegal or incompetent activity in those spheres, which the inadequate completion of forms or submission of documentation is covering up. However, it is perfectly possible to lie when filling in forms, and to submit documentation which is either forged or bears no relationship with real activities, so that your records are perfectly satisfactory while your actual performance is disastrous. Therefore, it is important to investigate, not only the problems identified by the Auditor-General, but all provincial and municipal activities. Unfortunately, what is happening is that the bean-counters’ bean-counting is being fetishized and used to stand in for an investigation of corruption and proper service delivery. This is a disastrous policy.

Oddly, however, very little corruption has, thus far, been discovered. The most which can be said, thus far, is that tender procedures have not always been followed with the diligence which is demanded by the law. It is possible that some of these tenders were corruptly awarded and that money has been wasted, but so far nothing has been proven, although it is not tremendously difficult to see when work has not been done after expenditure has been made. This ought to surprise anyone who suspects that provincial governments are not only corrupt, but that the corruption is blatant, for this goes to suggest that the administrators are in some sense conniving with the corruption. (Which is more or less what the Creator has been pointing out for some time.)

As a result, despite expensive forensic audits and the wasting of everybody’s time (which is also creating massive problems in some areas as payments are suspended while their origin is under investigation, so that the people who are not being paid understandably refuse to provide services), these investigations are doing almost nothing to reduce the budget deficits now or in the future.

So why is it being done? One might, of course, make facile observations about how the Communist Party is essentially the only entity in the current government with any ideas at all, and since their ideas are rooted in the notion that Comrade Stalin is always right, their practice always entails making sure that everything is controlled from the centre, preferably from Cde Nzimande’s desk (Cde Nzimande is never actually present at his desk, since he is always away doing important things where nobody can find him, so this means that nothing gets done, but that is the fault of the white liberals).

The provincial governments do not want it to be done. Central government claims that this is because the provincial governments are corrupt and are quailing before the righteous flail of central authority. This would be more credible if the flail were being laid on evenly across the board. However, it is not. One can understand that the corruption in the Western Cape government is not being investigated — to do so would be to alienate rich white people, an idea which appals and terrifies the toadies of rich white people who staff the Cabinet and the NEC. However, the corruption in the Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal governments is not being investigated either. All these three provinces¬† have escaped curatorships — as has the Northern Cape government, the only provincial government to have been caught with both hands in the till, where the local ANC boss is facing actual charges, substantiated with evidence, of tender fraud. (Of course, the Northern Cape is such a tiny operation that it makes little difference whether it is investigated or not.) All these governments have substantial deficits, as well as substantial service delivery issues, yet the Marxist fanaticism characteristic of, er, the Obama regime is not being applied to them.

Three of the provinces which have faced central intervention, on the other hand, have something in common. Limpopo, North-West and Eastern Cape were and are heartlands of hostility to Zuma. (Free State is more ambiguous, but it is certainly not a Zuma stronghold the way Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal are.) The Mail and Guardian revealed that the massive intervention in Limpopo took place before the preliminary Treasury report on the provincial finances was completed — that is, the intervention was illegal. (Shockingly, this front-page news story actually appeared on the front page of the paper, the first time in years this has happened; for obvious reasons, the story was subsequently killed.) The obvious reason for rushing the intervention through was so that it would precede the provincial conference and thus empower opponents of the Limpopo Premier, one of Zuma’s main antagonists in high office. (This failed, it will be recalled, despite the enthusiastic support which those opponents received in the media.)

It does seem that there are reasonable grounds for assuming that a major reason for the provincial intervention is — as is usual in the Zuma administration’s activities — inept political manipulation.

It would certainly be easy, and ideologically appealing, for the press to criticise all this. Yet, intriguingly, the press is not doing so. The Mbeki administration was accused of being obsessed with overcentralisation on a weekly basis, but this central intervention, although more heavy-handed than anything the Mbeki administration has done, has received the blessing of most newspapers. (Which is probably why the Mail and Guardian‘s critique was hastily shelved; they received the memo late, or something.) It is customary for newspapers to condemn political manipulation — but not in Zuma’s case, and especially not in this particular case. On the contrary, the newspapers have essentially published the claims of Gordhan and his minions about the failure of the provincial governments without any real comment or analysis, acting as regime propaganda tools, not for the first time.

Meanwhile, what is actually being done looks more than a little alarming. In the Eastern Cape, for instance, the deeply unpopular Education Superintendent-General Mannya has been engaged in a deficit-reduction exercise of some note — firing teachers. He is starting off by firing the temporary teachers who are hired because the teachers provided at state schools are often incompetent or unsuited to the needs of the curriculum, so that additional teachers are needed to provide adequate education. In other words, Mannya is slashing the institutional wrists of the schools under his control, simply in order to save money. This is in the grand Kader Asmal tradition, and will lead to immense problems down the track, especially in a province where the matriculation pass-rate has fallen. (That is, where the matriculation pass-rate actually reflects educational performance, instead of, as in the other eight provinces, reflecting what the Ministry of Basic Education wishes it to reflect.) Moreover, it is unlikely to stop there; no doubt Mannya has plans for further retrenchment and disempowerment up his sleeve.

It seems likely that similar policies will be the order of the day wherever central government puts its thumb on the administrative scales. There will be cuts, of course, and these cuts will have nothing to do with the needs of the province, and are liable to hamper social development and economic growth. Such cuts fulfil three functions. Reducing provincial spending reduces the deficit of the province and thus enables the Minister of Finance to conceal his mismanagement of the national budget and the economy generally, by putting the deficit on the shoulders of the people instead of the government. Reducing provincial spending also provides the central government with a convenient scapegoat, the provincial governments, who are thus blamed for the mismanagement where it cannot be concealed. Reducing provincial spending only in provinces where party support for Zuma is low also serves to provide the political education which the Zuma cabal promised as Polokwane; get on the wrong side of the Big Chief and your wells will dry up, as in Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah.

All this is completely consistent with the neoliberal “austerity” policies imposed on Europe by the IMF and the ECB, and on the United States by the Boehner-Obama axis of evil. This neoliberalism is doubtless the reason why our largely foreign-controlled media are such praise-singers for the process. It will be the death of our country, if we do not do something about it soon.

Yes, somebody should do something about everything — that’s the Creator’s opinion.