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Letter from The President - An ANC government for all the people

3 July 2009

During the debate on the budget vote of the Presidency in the National Assembly last week some speakers raised the issue of the relationship between party and state, and the relationship between party and government.

This is an important matter to discuss further in an effort to ensure that we have a common understanding of the principles that should guide these relationships.

Too often people conflate the government and the state. It is necessary to understand the difference.

The government is elected into office with a political mandate. On 22 April this year, an overwhelming majority of South Africans voted for the ANC and gave it a mandate to govern the country for another five years.

There is no doubt that the ANC is the leading party in government; the ANC rules. Therefore the programmes of the national government, and those of eight of the nine provinces, reflect the policies of the ANC. These policies are based on the resolutions of the ANC conference in Polokwane in 2007, later refined in our election Manifesto. There is therefore nothing untoward in a statement that says the ANC makes policy and government implements that policy.

Speaking at the conclusion of the debate of the Presidency’s budget vote, I said: “Having formed a government to implement its policies and programmes, the ANC cannot then disappear for five years. It must perform its own oversight functions to ensure that the government it formed stays true to its mandate. It owes that to the electorate of this country. In undertaking this responsibility, the ruling party will engage in internal processes and consultations it considers necessary, as do all other parties. The organisation’s interaction with cadres it has deployed does not detract from the responsibility of government to serve all the people of South Africa.”

This point was raised sharply at the Polokwane conference; the challenge of ensuring that the ANC performs its own oversight functions to ensure that government remains true to the policies of the organisation and its electoral mandate.

In assessing the ANC’s performance in governance, conference delegates noted that ANC structures were not sufficiently involved in giving guidance to its deployees in government and in monitoring their performance.

Delegates resolved that the constitutional structures of the ANC at all levels should closely monitor and direct the work of government. Among other things, this means that they need to strengthen their policy sub-committees.

It was also one of the main reasons for the resolution to accelerate the establishment of the ANC Policy Institute. This would provide the movement with the capacity to continually monitor government’s performance and to provide support to policy development processes.

This is long overdue. While the ANC has been remarkably effective in developing good policies and has made significant progress in implementing them, it needs a dedicated facility to measure performance. This will improve not only the quality of policy, but will contribute to a better record in ensuring these policies improve the lives of the people.

The Policy Institute should not remove responsibility for the development of policy away from the ANC’s constitutional structures or its members. Instead it should empower structures and members to debate governance issues and take informed policy decisions.

One of the strengths of the ANC is that it consults widely on policy, within the organisation, among its Alliance partners and with different stakeholders in society. This enriches the policy process and means that government programmes reflects a broad range of inputs.

Debate improves policy. We should not be afraid of debate within the ranks of the ANC or Alliance, even when the different views of allied organisations are expressed in public. As I said in Parliament last week: “It does not make sense to call for robust debate within this House and in society at large, but then to insist that the President of the ANC should stifle debate within his own party.”

In contrast to government – which serves a five-year term on the basis of a political mandate – the state refers to those public institutions which remain in place beyond a specific term of office. These institutions, the professional public service for example, are meant in their composition and conduct to be non-partisan.

Matters relating to these institutions are regulated by provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the country. We cannot allow a situation in which the institutions or resources of the state are used to advance party political or other partisan interests.

This means that we must ensure that the relevant laws and regulations are strictly adhered to. Where there are violations, action needs to be taken in line with our laws. It also means that we need to develop a consciousness within state institutions and among public servants that it is unacceptable to use the instruments of state to advance narrow party interests.

Public servants should not behave in a partisan manner. But they are expected to diligently and enthusiastically implement the policies and programmes of the government of the day. They are expected to undertake without favour the tasks necessary to implement the will of the people.

Regardless of the party that won the election, the government of the day is the government of all South Africans. As it implements its mandate, it must therefore equally attend to the needs of all South Africans. This extends to all institutions of the state.

As the ANC we are committed to ensuring that this happens in practice. All structures and members should remain ever vigilant to ensure that the government of the ANC does indeed fulfil its mandate and that it remains at all times a government of all the people of South Africa.

Issued by:
Jacob G. Zuma
African National Congress