Foreign Affairs Budget and Strategic Plan: Department briefing

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ECONOMIC AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
17 May 2005
FOREIGN AFFAIRS BUDGET AND STRATEGIC PLAN: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Acting Chairperson: Ms M Themba (ANC, Mpumalanga)

Documents handed out
Department of Foreign Affairs Strategic Plan: 2005 – 2008
http://www.dfa.gov.za
Department PowerPoint presentation

SUMMARY
The Department briefed the Committee on its Strategic Plan with its major focus on four priorities being: the consolidation of the African Agenda; strengthening relations of the South-South co-operation; strengthening of bilateral relations; and global governance. Members concerns included implementation of global agreements, peer review mechanism and South Africa’s stance on the Zimbabwean issue.

MINUTES
Dr A Ntsaluba, Department Director-General, briefed the Committee on their Strategic Plan. The Department’s major focus was the ‘consolidation of the African Agenda’; strengthening relations in South-South co-operation; strengthening of bilateral relations; and global governance.

The Department ensured that in every forum in which it participated, the central issue was the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and their related problems to Africa. The Department’s Strategic Plan revealed the need for reform of the United Nations to protect African interests. Focus was on democratisation of Bretton Woods institutions and the reform of global financial systems.

South Africa had vested interest in the stability of the Middle East because 80% of its oil supplies came from there. The Department had opened ‘micro-missions’ with minimal staff to reduce the workload at busy embassies. For instance, the office in India now longer had to also serve other countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Relations with Australia had gone through a turbulent period and this was related to Zimbabwe. Efforts were being made to resolve the differences.

The Department had registered progress on gender staff represetivity, although it was struggling to fulfil its disability quota. In terms of the budget, significant improvements had been achieved in terms of spending. The major challenge to the Department’s efficiency was its outdated communication system. It was working with other Departments to revamp it.

Discussion
Ms M Themba (ANC Mpumalanga) asked the Department to outline the process of review and implementation of global agreements, and the gender transformation process.

Dr Ntsaluba said that the Global Agreements were monitored largely through the different clusters. For example, with the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), Cabinet had taken a clear decision and these were driven by the Social Cabinet Cluster led by the Statistician General. The implementation of some of those commitments was done by different departments. South Africa had also participated in the Beijing Review Process.

Dr Ntsaluba said that all Department initiatives were partly in response to the gender declaration challenge. He said there was a need for a legislative framework that would sustain the forward movement of this initiative.

Mr K Sinclair (NNP Northern Cape) sought clarification on the mechanism for the peer review process. He asked when the Square Kilometre Array Telescope would be made available in the Northern Cape. He also sought justification for ex-President Aristide’s presence in South Africa

Dr Ntsaluba agreed that the location of the Square Kilometre Array Telescope would play a significant role in the region because its range would stretch into other African countries. During the Heads of Missions meeting, the Director-General of Science and Technology had requested to see South African ambassadors in various these countries and give them specific briefs regarding this issue. Should South Africa be chosen as host, the technology would cost billions.

Dr Ntsaluba said Mr Aristide’s presence in South Africa represented the country’s contribution to the democratic process in Haiti. The situation in Haiti was complex and required a constructive way of engaging every political leader who had good support, and President Aristide was undeniably one of them.

Dr Ntsaluba said that the Zimbabwean issue was very complex. South Africa continued to maintain an ‘open-door approach’ and had sent signals to both ZANU and MDC that it was ready to assist them. The environment under which the elections were carried out was far much better than the previous one, and this had been confirmed by election observers who went to Zimbabwe. South Africa hoped that the ruling ZANU (PF) would reflect on the significance of the MDC’s performance in the urban areas and among certain strata of society. It was important for the two parties to engage in dialogue.

Mr J Sibiya (ANC Limpopo Province) asked whether the Department was accessible for people in rural areas for its recruitment process. He wondered whether the Department foresaw the ideological differences at play in Common African Defence Policy and whether there were strategies in place. He sought clarification on the Blair Anti-Poverty Campaign, and whether it would be done in conjunction with the Commission in Africa. Did South Africa have economic relations with Russia?

Dr Ntsaluba replied that much of the theoretical and conceptual debates around the Common African Defence Policy had been resolved by February last year when the policy was adopted in Tripoli at a special summit. Outstanding issues largely revolved around the Mutual Defence Pact. They were differences between many countries including South Africa. The Libyan approach to this kept on resurfacing and had ‘spoiled’ the discussion.

Dr Ntsaluba said there was some ambivalence on the Blair Commission and Anti-Poverty Campaign. Issues of debt cancellation and opening of the trade dispensation firmly anchored the views of the developing countries. South Africa did not want the Blair Commission to create a precedent that every G8 meeting should start an initiative on Africa because that would divert from the central issues. Mobilisation of requisite resources was the main issue.

South Africa had economic relations with Russia and used the AITEC mechanism. Main areas of focus included minerals and energy, and science and technology. The relations had faltered at some point because of the rapid changes in the government. However, the ongoing trials in Russia and their implications for investments in South Africa were a cause for concern.

Mr J Sibiya (ANC Limpopo) expressed concern about relations between South Africa and France.

Dr Ntsaluba acknowledged that the situation between France and South Africa was tricky because France’s influence in its traditional strongholds, and the country had to be engaged constructively. There was an established mechanism at official level to interact with the French on a regular basis. The Department understood that France and other countries felt challenged by South Africa’s involvement in their traditional spheres of influence. It was important to reassure them that South Africa’s intention was to deal with the conflict and not necessarily make allies. France’s foreign policy was to extend its influence beyond its traditional Francophone countries. It had therefore recognised South Africa as a strategic partner.

The meeting was adjourned.

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