Were you really surprised, Pravin?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Many of you are likely to be familiar with the name Mike van Graan. He is a writer, playwright and artist from Cape Town where he currently resides. Mike and I worked together in 1998 when I was Managing Editor of the Cape Times and we appointed him to run what has now become the Cape Town Festival.

Mike has received numerous accolades for his work. In 2001, he was selected for the Arts and Culture Trust Arts Journalist of the Year.

His plays, Bafana Republic 1 and Bafana Republic 2 won Best One Person Show at the South African Comedy Awards in 2007 and 2008 respectively. His 2007 theatrical offering, Die Generaal, won the Anglogold Ashanti Smeltkroes Prize for Best Original Afrikaans Script at the Aardklop Arts Festival. Lago's Last Dance, a trilogy which premiered on the main programme of the National Arts Festival in 2009, has been nominated in the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards Best New Script category.

This week, a short comment from Mike on Facebook caught my eye. He said:

"The Department of Arts and Culture issued a tender for the drafting of a Quadrennial Report on how it has implemented the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (AFTER the closing date of 30 April 2012 when such reports were to have been submitted to UNESCO).

"It received three bids – one for R688 560 (68 000+ Euros), another for R935 340 (93 000+ Euros) and a third for R979 000 (98 000+ Euros) – essentially to complete a 20-page report.

"The DAC selected the most expensive bidder to do this, a job that should have been done by a DAC employee.

"Yet another example of utterly outrageous, wasteful and fruitless expenditure!!!"

A 20-page report? Costing a million rand? R50 000 per page? I'm declining to name the bidder involved at this point because I have not had a chance to hear their side of the story and it would be journalistically inappropriate to not give them right of reply.

The same is not true for the Department of Arts and Culture which has this to say about itself:

"The vision of the Department of Arts and Culture is: An arts, culture and heritage sector that contributes significantly to social cohesion, nation building and economic empowerment.

"The Department of Arts and Culture is guided by the following values:

Professionalism – An employee must during official duties behave and execute her or his duties in a manner that enhances the reputation of the Department.

"Competency – An employee must strive to deliver top-class quality products and services, seek innovative ways to solve problems and enhance effectiveness and efficiency within the context of the law.

"Integrity – An employee shall be faithful and honest in the execution of her or his duties and must be committed through timely service towards the development and upliftment of all South Africans.

"Accountability – An employee must be responsible and accountable in dealing with public funds, property and other resources.

"Transparency – An employee must promote transparent administration and recognise the right of access to information, excluding information that is specifically protected by law."

Are these people on the same planet? It's reflective of a fundamental disconnect between what government departments believe they do, and what they do.

So it was that our highly capable Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, took to the airwaves this week to say that it had come as a surprise to him to hear that ratings agency Standard & Poor had downgraded South Africa's credit rating.

Surely, Pravin, the fact that ratings agency Moody's had done the same two weeks ago would have provided a clue?

Surely the fact that truck drivers trying to earn a living were firebombed on the job might have provided a clue?

Surely the fact that the Marikana strike showing that the way to achieve a wage increase is to illegally strike and to murder those who do not stand with you might have provided a clue?

So, to avoid any possibility that the government will be taken by surprise in the near future, let me make some predictions.

Firstly, I expect a further downgrade in the short term from ratings agency Fitch. I don't hope for it, but I expect it.

Secondly, if the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung says anything that does not see a return to the fiscal discipline and rule of law that prevailed during the Mbeki era, we will see our credit ratings downgraded by a further two notches to junk bond status.

And if you want to know why, look no further than Mike van Graan's closing comment on the money spent on the DAC report: "That could run a dance company for a year!"