Eradication of Global Poverty

START OF DAY

THURSDAY, 18 MAY 2006

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
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The House met at …
The Speaker took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment for silent prayer or meditation.

QUESTIONS TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

QUESTION 7:

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA: Thank you very much. First of all, Madam Speaker, let me thank the hon Tshivhase for posing this question, which draws our attention to this important challenge of the eradication of poverty globally. Indeed, as the question indicates, the United Nations had declared the period 1997-2006 as the Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. You would be aware that since that resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, there have at least three important conferences of the United Nations that have also focused on this matter, and would therefore have had an impact on the decisions that were taken at that time by the General Assembly. I am referring here to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the Millennium Conference Summit of the United Nations in 2000 and the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, all of which also addressed this particular matter.

The hon member wants to know what contribution has been made by South Africa to the effort to eradicate global poverty. To that extent she is not asking that we address matters that are domestic. I must say that our own efforts to address the matter of poverty have got to start at home. Our first response to that Decade for the Eradication of Poverty has got to be about what we are doing domestically. With regard to that, I would like to say that indeed ever since a democratic government was constituted, our programmes have focused precisely on this issue and it would be quite possible, quite easy relatively, to give a comprehensive account to the NA as to what has been done with regard to this, whether it relates to the management of the public finances, measures that have been introduced in order to achieve redistribution of wealth and income, matters that relate to interventions in the economy to make it grow, so that we got greater volumes of wealth, with which to address this matter, and various other matters.

That would indeed be our first response about South Africa's contribution to the effort to eradicate global poverty that would have to be the domestic effort to address what is indeed a very important matter in our country. Centrally what we have done in the last 12 years has indeed been to focus on this issue.

The second element of that response has been on the continent and therefore more relevant on the continent of Africa and to the question that the hon member posed. I will say something about that. The third element of that response is the more global participation of our country in processes that have sought to address this matter.

The resolution of the General Assembly in December 1996, which declared this Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, said that eradicating poverty is an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind. The main objective of the Decade was the eradication of absolute poverty and the substantial reduction of overall poverty in the world. It constituted a commitment by the developing countries to direct resources freed through debt relief, debt reduction, debt cancellation, to an integrated poverty eradication strategy and national plans towards poverty eradicating activities, sustainable economic growth and development, social protection for the poorest and the most vulnerable, including women and children, priority areas of the social sector spending, including provision of basic services, primary education and health care, good governance, including the economic and political empowerment of citizens, efficient, transparent and accountable institutions and internationally agreed millennium development goals, which came later.

Further, it also constituted a commitment by the developed countries to promote capacity-building and facilitate access to and transfer technologies and corresponding knowledge on favourable terms, ensuring a more open and equitable system of international finance, facilitating access by the poor in the developing countries to micro finance, increasing development assistance to 0,7% of the gross national product of the wealthier countries, with greater co-ordination of that assistance, and opening the markets of the developed countries to the exports of the developing countries.

We had to respond to those goals as set by that resolution of the General Assembly, which declared the Decade. Last year's United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals came to the conclusion, clearly, that insufficient progress has been made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals decided in 2000. It drew particular attention to the fact that our continent was falling behind with regard to this. The commitment by the developed countries to increase their development assistance to that 0,7% of GNP had not been met by most countries, except the Nordic countries and the Netherlands. It said, nevertheless, that absolute poverty in most parts of the world had declined but had increased in Africa by 100 million people since 1990. However, the trend of economic growth in Africa has shown an upswing of 1,2% per year since 2000.

I think members are familiar with what we have been doing with regard to what I said, was a second response to the challenge that was posed by the United Nations. That second response concentrated on the African continent. There is general agreement - and I know there is general agreement - that what is fundamentally important on the African continent in order to achieve this objective of the eradication of poverty and achieving the necessary rates of growth, is the matter of achieving peace and stability, security, freedom and democracy on our continent, so that we do indeed create the conditions that would enable us to address the development challenges which the Decade sought to address. In that regard, I think the House is familiar with the work that we have been doing as a country to assist in the resolution of a whole variety of problems and challenges on the continent that have to do with peace and stability and democracy, including the interventions that we have made with regard to the DRC, Rwanda, to Burundi, Somalia, the Darfur region, Côte d'Ivoire, the Comores and that is a very important part of the response that we have made as a country to the call by the United Nations that we should indeed eradicate global poverty. I am happy to say that indeed with regard to all of these matters, where we have intervened, that there is indeed progress. It does not mean that there are no problems that persist.

Recently, the Cabinet made a decision that we should contribute to a multilateral debt relief initiative and commit to once-off payments to the World Bank's International Development Association or IDA, and to the African Development Bank. The objective of this intervention is to deepen debt relief to the highly indebted poor countries, in order to help them to reach their Millennium Development Goals.

Globally we actively participate in all manner of initiatives, including the negotiations at the WTO, to build a global trading system focused on what was agreed on at Doha, which was correctly characterised as a Doha development round. I think again globally there is acceptance that the world trading system needs to be changed in a manner that would impact positively on this matter of addressing global poverty. I better stop, Madam Speaker.

The SPEAKER: I have allowed the President to continue to respond on this very, very crucial matter because unless the world solves the problem of poverty, we are not doing anything as leaders. I was also praying that President would look to his left - and indeed he saw it.

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Your prayer has been answered, Madam Speaker. [Laughter.]


FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS:

Mrs T J TSHIVHASE:
*** Language spoken has changed to Tshivenda ***

Ndi a livhuwa Mulangadzulo. Ndi na inwe mbudziso hafhu ine nda khou i livhisa kha Mailausumbwa. Ro lavhelesa vhukondi he ha vha hone kha luta lwa u fhedzisela lwa nyambedzano dza WTO, ndi afhio maga a u dzhenelela ane Afurika Tshipembe la tea u a tevhela? [Zwiseo.]


THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC : Madam Speaker, can I ask Minister Mufamadi to translate please? [Laughter.]

The SPEAKER: Yes, unfortunately the President does not have the equipment to be able to hear the interpreting services.

The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: What I know is how to do the tshikona, Madam Speaker. [Laughter.]

The MINISTER FOR PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Speaking one of the eleven languages that are recognised in the country, the hon Tshivhase wants to know, in view of the difficulties that were experienced during the WTO negotiations, especially during the last round of the WTO negotiations, what steps does the President think South Africa needs to follow in order to ensure that, notwithstanding those difficulties, progress can be realised?

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: I do trust that the hon Minister translated that correctly. [Laughter.] The issue of the WTO negotiations is a matter of concern to everybody around the world. As I had indicated, all of us accepted, and all of us said that this was the Doha development round. Central to the outcome of the Doha WTO process was this matter of development and therefore the fundamental outcome of this process of negotiations at the WTO would indeed have to address the issue of development and therefore, the matter of the reduction of poverty globally, as was indicated during this Decade for the Eradication of Poverty.

There is indeed a serious problem and part of it relates to agreement with regard to agricultural support provided to farmers, both within the European Union and the United States, which creates these problems of access by agricultural products from the developing countries.

We still hope that in the ongoing negotiations, both the EU and the United States in particular, would be able to change their positions - and I say, we hope, since none of us can make any commitment that they will do so - so that the issues about market access and the possibility for agricultural products from the developing countries to enter these markets on a just basis, without having to confront the subsidies provided to the farmers in these areas, would indeed be able to change their positions with regard to this.

South Africa belongs to the important group engaged in the negotiations, the G20, South Africa continues to engage with that group to try and persuade the developed world to make the necessary changes. We interact with these processes in all other forums, in order to achieve this objective. The answer to the question is that we shall continue to do what we did in the past to engage as vigorously as we can, to negotiate and produce a successful and acceptable outcome with regard to this issue of market access for agricultural products, and therefore the related issues of subsidies paid by the developed countries to their farmers.

The SPEAKER: We now pass on to question 8 posed by the hon Gomomo. I don't see any supplementary questions on my screen. I am very glad to see them now.

Mr M J ELLIS: Madam Speaker, certainly it must mean again that the process is not working. I don't want to ask a question, but certainly Mr Boinamo does.

Mr G G BOINAMO: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Hon President, as part of the global community, South Africa is also concerned with the eradication of poverty within its own borders. In September 2005 the UN released its annual human development report. The HDI focuses on three measurable dimensions of human development: leading a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. South Africa ranked 120th out of 177 countries and has fallen 35 places since 1990. How does the President explain this dramatic drop in the standard of living in our country under this government, and what steps is he taking to reverse the situation?

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA: Madam Speaker, the report to which the hon member refers is not prepared by us. It is prepared by the UNDP and maybe they are the ones who should explain how they have come to this conclusion. [Applause.] The conclusion is wrong. The conclusion is patently wrong. The Minister of Finance, hon Trevor Manuel, has indeed been engaging the United Nations Development Programme on this report to ask them very specific questions about the actual information on which base these conclusions. I would imagine that the UNDP would in time provide us with that information. We are quite convinced that information is wrong; the information on which they based this determination to which the hon member has referred. They made the determination but quite how they did it, is exactly the same explanation that we are seeking. The hon member says I must explain it but we did not draw up the report. It is not our report. The UNDP must explain and that is why the Minister of Finance is engaging them to get that explanation. I am quite sure, that should the UNDP point us to certain realities of South Africa, which had resulted in us falling 35 places on the list, they should point us to those factors, which resulted in that factually. We would address them. I am quite convinced that the report is wrong and I would be very interested to hear how the UNDP explains itself.

Ms S C VOS: Thank you, Speaker, Mr President, as you have indicated, in global terms the continent of Africa must be seen as the most in need in terms of poverty eradication. Now regional economic integration and political co-operation have been agreed by African leadership as vital to achieve this and has been envisaged that in a multi-phased approach, first of all, dismantled tariff barriers and customs duties among African countries, moving finally to an African common market. How confident are you that this can be achieved in the short term? There were documents that I have looked at and this would hopefully be done by 2007. This does not seem to be the case. Would you give us some idea of your views in terms of how we can reach these goals in terms of regional integration and what the problems are?

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Madam Speaker, I suppose it does depend on how short the short term is. If the short term ends in 2007, then it is too short. In the course of the implementation of the Nepad programmes, one of the matters that has become very clear, it that a lot of work needs to be done to strengthen the regional economic communities, SADC, Ecowas and so on. These are central instruments in terms of achieving the economic integration of the continent that we aspire to, to which the hon member refers. This includes the matter of creating free trade areas on the continent, regionally and then building up to cover the continent as a whole. One of the serious problems that has surfaced has been that our regional economic communities are not strong enough, don't have sufficient capacity, haven't had the capacity to do the things that needed to be done, in order to achieve the objectives that the hon member correctly refers. As a consequence of that, there has been a very regular interaction between the Nepad steering committee, the Nepad secretariat and the regional economic communities to address this matter. We have set with the co-operation of our development partners, a specific fund based at the African Development Bank to assist precisely with regard to this, to ensure that we are able to beef up the capacity, improve the effectiveness of the regional economic communities, so that indeed they can discharge their responsibilities with regard to this integration. It is necessary and it has to be done.

If our short term were 2007, we would have to extend it a bit beyond that. It is indeed not possible that we would achieve this African common market within a short timeframe.

Mr L M GREEN: Hon President, there seems to be two schools of thought in this debate on the eradication of poverty. On the one hand you have the school of thought and they often say this, that since the coming to power of our new government since 1994 and up till now, there is a school of thought that says that in fact, poverty has doubled. Amongst those people is the South African Institute of Race Relations with their recent 700-page report, indicating that has in fact happened. On the other hand, there is the school of thought - and maybe this seem to be the stronger of the two - which says that poverty has in fact been reduced in South Africa, given the government social spending, the amount that has gone into grants, electrification. . .

The SPEAKER: Your minute is finishing in two seconds.

Mr L M GREEN: Mr President, could you tell us as the leader of our nation, whether you believe that poverty has significantly been reduced by the present government?

THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA: The hon member is quite correct about the serious challenges you mentioned a bit earlier on. The serious challenge of poverty in our country has to be at the centre of everything that we do. Therefore, we shouldn't respond to it, whether this school of thought is right and this one is wrong, as a matter of belief. The hon member said whether I believe it. It should not be a matter of belief. It ought to be a matter of the actuality, the facts about what is actually happening. I am quite certain that there would be no logical reason why, with everything that has happened in the country, that people are poorer now than they were in 1994. It is an illogical proposition.

I do not know if you saw an article written by Dr Gumede in our media responding to the report of the Institute of Race Relations to which you referred. I read the article because Dr Gumede said I must read it. He didn't express beliefs. He presented facts in that report. He indeed cited studies by other academics in the country, which said precisely the opposite of what the Institute of Race Relations had said. I can explain clearly why it is the case and on what facts I would base my own conclusions on, that a school of thought which says that there has been an increase in poverty in the country, would obviously be wrong. It relates to the matter that was raised earlier concerning the human development report of the UNDP. Even they can't adduce these facts, which would result in a conclusion that the situation has gotten worst in the country since 1994. Beyond belief, basing us on facts, I am quite sure that the Institute of Race Relations was quite wrong.

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