Speech by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr L. Landers (MP) during a debate in the National Assembly, Cape Town, 21 May 2015
International Relations and Cooperation
Honourable Speaker; Honourable Members; Your Excellency’s Ambassadors, High Commissioners; Representatives of International Organisations; Distinguished guests; Ladies and gentlemen,
This year we begin the third decade of our democracy. This budget vote recommits our department to the principle of the Freedom Charter that “there shall be peace and friendship”.
This budget vote is grounded in the call for radical economic transformation. It emphasises strengthening economic diplomacy and integration, thereby giving impetus to the spirit of the Freedom Charter viz. that "the people shall share in the country’s wealth."
In this regard, our Minister has ably articulated our key policy priorities for the 2015/16 financial year.
Our shared history in the Americas and Caribbean region and struggle against colonialism remains central to our fraternal and diplomatic relations.
(As we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference, we confirm that our relations with this region remain vibrant as we strive to retain the Bandung spirit.)
The past year saw an increased focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. We visited the region at Ministerial, Deputy Ministerial and Senior Officials level. The visits included Cuba, Uruguay, Chile and Columbia.
These visits strengthened our relations with these countries which culminated in the successful signing of political and economic agreements and an agreement to establish a new mission in Columbia.
This year I will be visiting the Caribbean region to also strengthen our political, economic and cultural ties.
In the new financial year, Cuba will continue supporting our country with scarce skills. This includes medical and built environment professionals amongst others. The training of South African medical doctors in Cuba is also continuing with much success.
Cuba continues to be a strategic ally in our multi-lateral agenda for the reform of the United Nations and the global, financial and governance institutions and architecture.
DIRCO is pleased that in the last financial year we were able to release the promised funding which will assist Cuba to rebuild their economy.
Moreover, the universally lauded joint announcement by Presidents Castro and Obama presents an opportunity that could lead to fundamental changes in Cuba after five decades of the economic embargo. However, we cannot be complacent.
Instead we will accelerate our support to Cuba on all fronts to ensure that the blockade is ended in totality and that Guantanamo Bay is returned to Cuba. Cuba deserves to regain its rightful place in the family of nations and rebuild its economy unhindered.
It is within this spirit that we encourage South African businesses to invest in and partner with Cuban enterprises to benefit both our countries.
Europe remains our largest foreign direct investment source. It therefore continues to be a priority through existing and regularized structured bilateral consultation-fora.
Whilst we value this relationship our major challenge continues to be to ensure that our political and economic relations and agreements with Europe reflect a paradigm of equal partners.
Our annual consultations will continue to build on this principle, whilst creating new opportunities from which South Africans can benefit.
We will also continue to strengthen our focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with a focus on Africa for trade and investments, skills development and technical cooperation.
We are engaging with the Europeans to form sustainable partnerships for development into the rest of Africa. It is intended that it results in the establishment of joint projects for Infrastructure development and the sharing of technical skills that can help upscale delivery.
Last year South Africa launched Operation Phakisa, which focuses on developing our oceans’ economy. Through our engagement with prominent seafaring nations, we would be able to tap into their considerable expertise to unlock opportunities in shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, mining and energy.
None of our objectives will be successful if our administrative structure, systems, staffing and skills is not aligned with our strategy.
Therefore in this financial year we have begun to implement our new organizational structure in line with our strategy.
Building on the legacy of revolutionary diplomacy inspired by amongst others the late OR Tambo, Johnny Makhatini, Dulcie September and Ruth Mompati, our diplomatic academy continues to train our diplomats in political diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and conflict resolution.
Furthermore, to ensure that our strategy of regional integration, beneficiation and building an inclusive economy on our continent is successful, our diplomats continue to be retooled and re-schooled in economic diplomacy.
As part of our commitment to the empowerment of women we have recently trained a reservoir of women in the field of conflict resolution. We are ready to deploy them in the next financial year to conflict areas across our continent.
We have begun a major systems upgrade in our ICT (Information and Communication Technology). This year we will continue with our technology refresh process by upgrading of all our hardware and software.
We remain focused on addressing all our governance challenges within the department as well as the African Renaissance Fund (ARF). We will continue to implement our audit plan.
We have also put in place policies, systems and staffing for the operationalization of the SADPA, including a secretariat. The only outstanding matter is the legislation that needs to be processed in Parliament. We are hopeful that it will happen this year.
Since our budget cuts, we have put in place numerous cost containment measures to ensure that we continue to implement our mandate. However, these measures are unsustainable in the medium to long term, given the unique environment that we operate within. This includes the fluid market fluctuations and its impact on the exchange rate.
Our financial architecture does not make provision for a reserve fund, whilst we need to consistently respond to unplanned events such as international humanitarian disasters.
We are also tasked with a number of unfunded mandate projects.
We have also not been able to effectively fulfil our newer mandates such as economic diplomacy. For example, if our strategy of growing markets and ensuring regional integration is to be successful we need the resources to develop economic intelligence capacity.
In conclusion, with the changing global trends, it is important for South Africa to diversify its relations, particularly with other emerging economies in order to open up new ways of finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.
I thank you
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road