The affordable education loan option
Cape Town - Parliament is getting ready to host President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address on Valentine’s Day - but it’s not clear what his bouquet of offerings will contain.
This is his administration’s last year before the 2014 elections, so the pressure will be on to deliver and show progress in the 2009 election priorities of job creation, education, health, curbing crime and corruption, and rural development.
The National Development Plan (NDP) - an outline of action to be taken to eradicate inequality and reduce poverty and unemployment by 2030, adopted at the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung, is expected to take centre stage on Thursday.
In the light of repeated criticism by international investors of uncertainty in socio-economic policy, environment and direction - and not just on the question of nationalising mines - Zuma must clarify how the plan gels with the New Growth Path adopted three years ago.
Indications are that he will emphasise the broad buy-in to the NDP, drafted through wide-ranging consultations under the auspices of the National Planning Commission in the Presidency and adopted by Parliament late last year.
This comes amid what has been described as a lukewarm reception for the plan in some ANC circles after presentations made at the party’s policy conference last June and the Mangaung conference in December - and criticism from, among others, the labour front.
Zuma is expected to report back on progress made. An increase in the number of households connected to safe water and sanitation and the number of homes built and lower crime statistics will probably be mentioned.
However, this State of the Nation address comes at a difficult time at home and abroad for some of the country’s main trading partners.
Unemployment figures have not been positive. In the latest labour force survey, Statistician-General Pali Lehohla pointed out that the official unemployment rate (using the limited definition, which does not include discouraged work-seekers) remained at about 24 percent, despite a number of state-driven interventions.
While the Marikana commission of inquiry is hearing testimony on the police killing of 34 miners - after 10 people had been killed in the preceding few weeks - the employment situation in the platinum belt and other mining sectors remains volatile.
The gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen has put a sharp focus on the fight against crime and the continuing violence against women and children.
Over the past year, the number of service delivery protests has rocketed. The protests have often involved violence, like that in the Free State township of Zamdela last month, over the proposed merger of the Matsimaholo and Ngwathe municipalities.
The DA has said it wants Zuma to account for progress, or lack of it, not make further promises. The United Democratic Movement has said there is little sign of the implementation of the multibillion-rand infrastructure programme that was the showpiece of the last State of the Nation address.
Opposition parties have said they want to hear about concrete measures to implement programmes to fight unemployment and poverty.
In line with discussions at the recent ANC national executive committee lekgotla focusing on implementation, Zuma’s address will probably focus on delivery.
Parliament has picked up the theme, “Socio-economic development through oversight and public participation”.
There has been much criticism of the national legislature, not only for the quality of its legislative output, but for its exercise of oversight over the government.
National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu says money is available for oversight. “We will make funds available. We might have to take money from elsewhere,” Sisulu said on Tuesday.