Transcript Copy: Briefing to Media by Foreign Affairs Director-General Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba, Cape Town, 22 October 2008

Good afternoon colleagues. Essentially we will cover two things in this briefing.

We have just come out of the Committee Meeting to table our Annual Report – we will talk a bit about that.

Secondly there are about three events that we can reflect on:

  • The first one is that you know that as we speak the President is in Kampala, Uganda for the Tripartite Summit of SADC, COMESA and EAC;
  • Secondly, last time we reported about the meeting of IBSA Heads of State and Ambassador Nene participated in those discussions and he might probably share some of the key issues without going into much detail because you might have seen the communiqué that came out of the communiqué.
  • We might briefly say a few things about some of the concerns we have related to the situation in the eastern part of the DRC; and then we might take some of the questions that you may wish to raise.

With respect to the Annual Report, I think generally what we were discussing with the committee is in a sense broadly satisfaction with the progress on the elements of what constituted our agenda for the period 2007-2008.

Now you will recall that our work revolves around five broad themes:

  • There is the issue of the work we are doing on the continent;
  • There is the issue of the work we are doing with the countries of the South;
  • There is the issue of the North-South partnerships;
  • There is the issue of the global governance, which were punctuated at this time by our membership of the UN Security Council on a non-permanent basis; and
  • Generally the work that we are doing to strengthen bilateral relations, particularly now with the greater effort on using those bilateral relations as a platform to advance what we broadly refer to as Economic Diplomacy.

And of course the last component which is important because it underpins all of that work, we shared with the committee a bit about the work that we have done in the area of organisational strengthening; how do we make our foreign ministry a stronger, more robust organisation that would then be able to, in a sense, on a dependable basis underpin the policy imperatives that the Executive would dictate at different times.

Let me start with that latter point. Obviously the areas that we highlighted with the committee revolves around the improvements that we have registered in the general systems of financial management, looking at areas around greater diligence in ensuring that we are leading a performance based organisation in line with the prescripts of the PFMA and also the general drift that the Auditor-General is taking now towards greater performance auditing.

On the issue of recruitment of and beginning to focus on the preparation of the next generation of Diplomats for South Africa. We have a Cadet programme that we have started. We have now also started a programme that we are running together with the University of Pretoria – the Masters Programme in Diplomacy, and also generally a lot of initiatives.

For example; a few weeks ago we looked at some of the South African companies which we thought were doing some sterling work in the private sector in the area around talent management and interacting with them because it is an area that is clear to us that we will have to explore all sorts of possibilities to retain some of the people that we are lucky enough to recruit to the Foreign Ministry because it is quite clear that the field out there is becoming more competitive. So all government departments are really struggling to recruit the types of people they want. So more investment in making our organisation far more a place that people want to identify with.

We generally were satisfied with the progress and I think eloquent testimony to that will be the fact that not only did we manage to have an unqualified audit but you would also note that we also had an unqualified audit without any matters of emphasis which would then suggest that quiet a number of the areas that have been picked in previous audits are areas that we attended to.

So by and large we are saying that it we have got a steady ship, it is improving, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The other area that we spoke to them about was that there is a lot of investment that is being put in the past few years on improving our ICT backbone largely because of the rapid expansion of our Missions in all corners of the globe. The challenge with rapid, more efficient communication is that there is rapid expensive advance in technology to keep in regular contact has been a major challenge and there is a large investment. I think that project is about 95 % complete now. Again we are very happy with that progress.

We also reported on the progress in the building of the consolidated headquarters for the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is going well and we believe we should be in the new premises by the end of April next year. I think that would enable us deal with a number of challenges managerially that sometimes now have been imposed by the decentralised nature of our operations. Again this is an issue we are happy about.

An issue that continues to pose challenges to us but which however we are making progress on, has to do with the emphasis on the PFMA on the issues of asset registers and asset management. As you would expect in an environment like ours which is extremely decentralised with 126 Mission to then have an accurate record of every asset from big to small that we possess is a huge challenge. However enough progress has been done by the department to justify the fact that the Auditor-General did not feel that there was any reason to be unduly worried about that. This is an area which a number of departments that have received qualified reports have fallen on. So there is a lot of investment of time and effort that has been put on that.

So by and large we were saying to the committee, with their help we have a reasonably healthy organisation that we can build on. There are some challenges. The two major challenges we would like the committee to support us on, if you compare our approved organogram versus what we have in reality, it is quiet clear that there is a huge gap – probably in the area of about 525 people that we still need both for our headquarter and our Missions to try to respond to this significant expanded scope of our international relations.

We at the same time have spent 98.8 % of our budget, which therefore suggests that we do not have the resources to fill those vacancies. So the first thing that we would ask the committee to help us with is precisely that.

To fill the vacancies we also need to be certain that we have the sort of operational resources, money to carry out those operations so that you do not have people who do not have the necessary tools to work. Again this is an issue that we can best be assisted by the committee. And of course all of us will do that knowing very well that there are plenty choices for Cabinet to make – the Minister of Finance yesterday delivered the Mid Term Budget Policy Statement and of course we know that with the global financial crisis things are not all the way we would like them to be but nevertheless we put that challenge squarely for the to help us with.

South Africa has taken a decision to expand our portfolio of properties that we own abroad which we are using for our operations because the current system we are using of expensive dependence on rentals is quiet clearly not sustainable. And again that requires high level engagement and support from the committee.

Fortunately our portfolio committee shares the view that we hope that we should move speedily towards the process of acquisition and what we have done as a department is that we characterised and prioritised the countries, for example the countries on the continent; multilateral missions where we will always be active; strategic partners in the South – your India and Brazil, that really we know that these are countries we will have to engage with.

We also shared some ideas on the African agenda with respect particularly to some of the challenges that we had recently around the processes in the region, first of all the challenges around regional integration, the issues of cohesion amongst the countries of SADC, member states of SACU; the challenge posed by the EPA negotiations, and of course the challenges generally to the region that have been imposed by some of the difficult areas that our leadership has yet with, Zimbabwe being one, DRC, Burundi, Sudan and so on.

But again in all those areas what we have committed to do as South Africa, I think we have been true and honest to that and of course some of the events have not panned out the way we would have liked them to but there is not much we can do about that.

We did not complete our engagement with the portfolio committee especially on the issues around global governance but perhaps I can just say two things on that:

I think our own assessment even though our term has not completed but certainly as of now I think we have learnt a lot during these two years. We believe that some of the things that we have known probably as theoretical abstracts about the functions of the UN Security Council – we have come to experience that in a far more robust way and I think there are several lessons we will take from that and we believe also that that exposure and the interaction of South African Diplomats with that engagement has produced and enabled us to have a bigger pool of people who will be sharper in their appreciation and understanding of what happens at that level of engagement.

We leant some lessons which we have spoken about in the past; mainly the weaknesses that we have on our side about communication position, anticipating the angles that might be exploited sometimes in our arguments so that by the time we interact with issues sometimes even if we feel strongly about the issues themselves and the positions we might have taken, but starting the debate on the back foot in a sense because already we are responding to accusations of incorrectness, in certain times alleged incorrectness of our positions. So I guess those were lessons. But I think our overall experience has strengthened the view that we have always held that there are major reforms that are necessary now in institutions of multilateral governance and that we must move with speed.

In that respect that is why we fully identify with the concluding statement that is in the communiqué from the IBSA Summit which made exactly that point that we must move with speed to try and deal with that.

Also the financial crisis again reaffirms another point that the institutions, as they are structured, need to be sensitive to the fact that more players need to be involved to try and make sure that the global economy works in a manner that it always protects in particular the most vulnerable.

Overall our assessment is that we moved in the right track. We did not achieve all the things we wanted to but by and large I think South Africans can be assured that the resources that they put at the disposal of the Foreign Ministry were used appropriately to advance that in line with our prescripts. The Auditor-General has looked at our performance management system and felt that there is alignment between what we said we want to do and what we have actually done.

President Motlanthe leads South African Delegation to the SADC, COMESA and EAC Tripartite Summit

Colleagues you know that we have got SADC, COMESA and the EAC. In the East Africa Community we have Tanzania which is also a member of SADC. Within COMESA we have a number of countries that are also members of SADC. In fact the members of SADC that probably do not belong to the other two organisations are only seven of the 15.

The problem of overlapping membership has posed a particular challenge and this challenge has been something that we have been reflecting on as to how we will tackle it especially as we move towards the declared intention of SADC to establish a customs union by 2010; the declared intention by COMESA to establish a customs union in two months’ time and the fact that the EAC has already moved significantly and in fact they are chasing the idea of establishing even s step beyond that about a common market.

We all know that in terms of the WTO rules no country will belong to more than one customs union, which then creates problems for some of the countries. We are avoiding the position where countries would be forced to choose.

A classical example is Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner is South Africa but if you look at Zimbabwe’s exports where they go to; they go to countries who are more COMESA. So it exports more within COMESA framework than within SADC. These sorts of things and tensions have thus shaped the way people have tended to relate to these different structures. So the meeting in Kampala is reflecting at the possibility of establishing a pan-regional Free Trade Area (FTA) and this FTA, which obviously for countries like South Africa, if it is achieved it would be a huge step in terms of opening up basically from, if you look at SADC, just over 200 million people to about 580 million people that would sit within that Free Trade Area. It will have 26 member states and as of today it would have a DGP of just about US$650 billion.

That is a significantly bigger market that will open up for the communities and of course there will be certain risks which is why the general sense in Kampala is that there needs to be some details of when that is done to look at the elements that would help shape a successful FTA. However the commitment to the FTA is something that we must advance.

For the countries in SADC region, they should also be consistent with what we have argued in the AU. In the AU in the debate on how we should proceed to continental integration, we have always argued that we need to establish strong RECs and we must encourage those RECs to interact amongst themselves as an intermediate step towards building an African common market towards the end.

That is where the President is today and hopefully they would finalise their work.

Democratic Republic of Congo

On the issues in the DRC we do not have all the facts as yet but we have been watching the situation. As you know South Africa is one of the key players that in a sense were involved in the Goma process which seemed to bring a bit of hope to all of us. We have seen progressively the unravelling of that situation. It is quiet clear that there are major problems that what started as skirmishes have come out now as full confrontation in certain instances between the armed forces of the DRC and General Nkunda’s forces. What is of concern to us is that this reopens the old mutual accusation across the border between the DRC and Rwanda, which we believe carries the risk that we might find again a re-ignition of that very volatile situation in the eastern part of the DRC. You would know that this issue was reflected on at the Summit of the Organ of SADC but it was not concluded largely because it would be fair that all the evidence is gathered before any final determination can be made.

IBSA

The Summit was a success in all accounts. The important thing is that in those three economies, our leaders have decided to instruct that immediately our Ministers of Finance of the three countries and Ministers of Trade as well as the Governors of the Reserve Banks should meet as soon as possible so that we could begin to see what within the context of the South is the input we can make in the form of ideas to how to deal with this current and probably help manage future crises.

I think the most important decision is to set the target of US$25 billion for trilateral trade between the three countries by 2015. There is also strong affirmation about the three countries working very strongly to encourage the initiative of the President of the General Assembly starting next February to open up negotiation on the issue of the reform of the United Nations with specific reference on the issues of the Security Council.

One of the common things that were spoken about is that South Africa, Brazil and India in terms of their social strategy, they are all dealing with the pervasive challenge of poverty. It was quiet appropriate that the Heads of State also decided that the clear social development strategy for IBSA needs to be prioritised and include that in the next Summit that will be hosted by Brazil on 8 October 2009.

As you would expect there would have been concerns with the failure of the Doha round; there would be welcoming of the agreements that have taken place with respect to the India process in the IAEA.

What interests us most is the scope of this interaction now – it has moved on to civil society, it has moved on to Parliamentarians, it has moved to women’s groups in addition and also moved to involve the business sector.

Zimbabwe

Last week we spoke a bit about Zimbabwe and what we would want to see but obviously nothing has changed in that except just for us to say once again that we hope that the leadership of Zimbabwe across the divide would really rise up to the challenge. We know what happened about the Summit and the difficulties that were there about hosting that and proceeding to discuss the issue in the Swaziland Summit. Let us hope now that there is a new date of Monday 27 November 2008 for the Organ to reconvene there are no unnecessary obstacles to that so that this issue can be finalised as speedily as possible.

Questions and Answers

Question: The Treasury gave R300 million for the revival of agriculture in Zimbabwe. Is all this money going to agriculture and if not how will it be distributed?

Answer: What has happened is that we were anxious, and so was the whole of SADC, that after the agreement was signed, and of course all of us were hopeful that by now a mutually agreed upon executive would have been constituted in Zimbabwe. We were concerned that one of the major areas of intervention that we should be prioritising, which also has a narrow window because it is linked to what you can do now during the planting season in order to impact on the food security situation in the months ahead and that we should be in a position to intervene and assist. What South Africa has basically done is to say: ‘when we look at what needs to be done in Zimbabwe there are a number of areas of intervention”. I don’t think we said this is the amount that is going to be spent on that particular project. But because we understood our own budgeting processes, what South Africa did was: ‘look it is quiet clear that these interventions, including and probably primarily the area of agriculture will require some injection of capital of one form or the other. And therefore what then happened was that we agreed, through the Treasury committee in order to make sure that indeed decisions are taken so that the Minister of Finance could make this sort of announcement and provision that he made, avoiding the situation where we wait until all the work is done and then only to find that we are actually parked even in terms of our own legislation. So part of that money is going to be used for agriculture.

It is not only government that is involved. There is a lot of discussions that the Department of Agriculture is involved in. It is interacting with the agricultural sector here in South Africa. As we speak, they are meeting sometime this afternoon in Gauteng. We know there are basic things that are going to be necessary – fertiliser, seeds and small instruments. So we want to be in a position where we make a contribution. We do not believe we are the only ones who will make a contribution.

Question: What consular assistance will the DFA render to the aid worker who was killed in Afghanistan?

Answer: The information I have as of now is that the only time we became aware that the person concerned held dual citizenship – that she was carrying two passports and South Africa’s was one of those was when it was reported in the media. We have confirmed that certainly on our side there had been no prior contact and I am unaware of any assistance that has been requested as of now by the family. But should that happen then South Africa will do the necessary, bearing in mind that we have certain limitations in some of those areas because we do not have a physical presence in Afghanistan as you would know.

What we have been trying to do is to, whether it is Afghanistan or places like Iraq, you know our position, to try to suggest to South Africans to be a bit more cautious in getting into those areas, largely because we know our capacity to assist when problems arise are limited.

Of course from the reports that we had the person was carrying out humanitarian work which is really needed in Afghanistan. It is a pity indeed what has befallen the person. Our hearts go out to the family of the departed.

Question: What is the mandate that President Kgalema Motlanthe is going to deliver in Kampala?

Answer:  First of all remember that we are signatories and we ratified the African Union (inaudible). So in the vision and the notion about the broader African economic community it is not an issue at all. Also we have always felt that it should be incremental but we have not approached it in a form that one step it should be concluded before the next – we said we must have solid building blocks. So our frame of mind is that the idea of beginning to have these three RECs interact is a very positive thing and therefore should be encouraged. What we would be anxious about is that we should not, before we have investigated what are the tasks that need to be done, find ourselves in specific timeframes – let these timeframes be informed by a clear understanding.

So the approach that South Africa is taking is that ‘yes we agree with the idea, what we now need to do is to unravel and have a very clear assessment as to what it is that needs to be done and out of that will evolve a clear understanding of how long it will take us to establish this envisaged FTA.

That is the generally the dominant standard position. There were some countries in that 26 who probably would have wanted, reflecting the same debate that let us set some timeframes now, inject a sense of urgency. Our view was that ‘you know that in SADC we have difficulties about how we relate even to the timeframes of the 2010 for customs union – this is a never ending debate. We are trying to suggest that let us be cautious but however we can inject an element of urgency by making sure that if there is any task that should be done that will help clarify what steps need to be taken that there are clear timeframes linked to those.

Question: What is the way forward with regard to the meeting that is taking place in Kampala between the SADC, EAC and COMESA?

Answer: The meeting has not completed but I was in Kampala over the past few days. My suspicion is that what would happen is that there will be a principled agreement about the establishment and then there will be a process set up that would help them determine the timeframes.

Question: On DRC issue, when the Security Council Ambassadors visited there in June there was a general agreement that the DRC government should go after the Rwandan Hutu group and solve that problem out before dealing with the Nkunda problem. Is that procedure being followed? On the global summit to deal with the financial crunch that President Bush has called for, are we going to be participating and have we been invited?

Answer: I am unaware of any invitation that has been extended to the South African government as yet to attend the envisaged Summit. However I think we can more or less take it as a given that if that invitation comes South Africa will be represented because attending will be consistent with the way we (inaudible). In any event some of these are bigger that any constellation of countries on its own because these things have major ramifications. And therefore for the G8 to arrive at the decision in effect to the dialogue that took place between Europe and the US that we must have a broader meeting to reflect on this. I think South Africa would then participate.

On the DRC issue the difficulty here, and that is why one wants to be very cautious, is that as I was trying to indicate I do not think we have all the facts for now. There are some reports that we have. We know that there has been clear confrontation between the armed forces of the DRC and General Nkunda’s people. We also know that there is already an allegation that comes out that the DRC government did not act as aggressively as it ought to, therefore it was understood that it was going to against the FDR which will then be the sort of approach and confirm that would expect from Rwanda. We don’t have all the facts but I think, especially in the past presentations on this matter have tended sometimes to inflame conflict between Rwanda and the DRC. So one wants to be cautious until we have got all the facts but I think there is a sense – we are having a bilateral commission with the DRC starting on Monday next week and the Summit part on Friday. I think this will offer us an opportunity at the highest level of the South African state to have an open discussion with the DRC and have a fuller appreciation.

President Motlanthe is in Uganda and I can assure you that he will have private discussions also and try to understand what the reading of other regional leaders there – whether it is President Kagame or President Museveni. I think out of all those interaction he might then be in a better position to fully appreciate what is happening.

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23 October 2008

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