Address by Comrade Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, RSA Minister of Correctional Services Message of Support to the 7th National Congress of Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU)

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Comrade Chairperson

President and members of the NEC of POPCRU

Representatives of the Tripartite Alliance and Guests from Fraternal Organisations

Leadership of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and its Affiliates

Delegates

We are indeed grateful for the invitation and the opportunity extended to us, on behalf of the Department of Correctional Services, to deliver a message of support to this, the 7th National Congress of Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU).

It is also a distinct personal honour for me to be addressing this august gathering for the first time in my capacity as Minister of the Department of Correctional Services. In Parliamentary terms, this would be referred to as my maiden speech to a POPCRU gathering, such maiden speeches in Parliament are normally associated with a “baptism by fire”.

Chairperson

The sitting of the 7th National Conference of POPCRU gives both the leadership and delegates an important opportunity for organisational introspection and a review of its work and contribution in the transformation of the criminal justice system in our country.

Such review also requires the correct reading of the current political conjuncture within which the various organisational and political challenges manifest themselves. In this regard, the 7th National Congress of POPCRU is not only called upon to look at the workplace challenges faced by members, but also to assess how much progress the country’s political set-up has made in advancing the plight of the working people. Having performed this review, and I am sure this is the business that congress engaged with for the past two days, then we can address the important question of “what needs to be done?”

Similarly, the favourable environment created by the ascension of the ANC into power and the many gains made for workers in the democratic dispensation need to be guarded jealously by the workers themselves.

This means that nothing in our actions and pronouncements should suggest that we seek to undermine the unity and survival of our movement, the result of which will mean the reversal of the gains our people made as part of our democratic dispensation.

We all need to reserve our harshest dislike of those who demonstrate even the slightest attempt to destabilise the unity of progressive forces and our revolutionary alliance in particular. This will mean that even in the manner in which we deal with our differences where they exist, there must always be a commitment, that despite the need for us to resolve these differences together, they should never be allowed to divide us.

As we meet here, the sector within which POPCRU organises, the Criminal Justice System is faced with various challenges. Some of these challenges are inherent in a system that is redefining itself as a result of the changing nature of law enforcement within a democratic dispensation.

We are eager for the outcome of this national congress and the contribution it will make in the improvement our service to South Africans, in our quest to ensure that they are and feel safe. We are confident that your discussions will form an important part of such a discourse.

Comrades

At its founding congress in November 1989, POPCRU chose as its motto the slogan “Justice for All”.This decision by the founding delegates of the union demonstrated from the very beginning, POPCRU’s own understanding of a direct link between the access to workplace rights for members and theimprovement in the access to justice by all South Africans. Hence from the beginning the work of the union, at least in the area of corrections has emphasised transformation of the prison system and improved conditions of incarceration side by side with advocating for improved working conditions for members.

It is for this reason that the ANC at the time, and later as a government held the view that we still hold today, that the unionism within the police and the prison environment, constitutes a positive influence on the building of democracy in society in general and within the criminal justice system specifically. I am invoking and reasserting this political commitment here, so that we can establish a fundamental principle that despite the various specific challenges of our day to day relationship, there is no way that this government can achieve the democratisation agenda within the cluster without a considerable and meaningful input of the union.

Over the years, and specifically during the period of my tenure as Minister, government has appreciated and recognised the role played by POPCRU in particular, in supporting the transformation agenda within the cluster.

The transformation of our penal system based on the White Paper on Corrections calls for the department to prepare offenders for reintegration into society through rehabilitation. Since the adoption of the white paper, significant progress has been made in changing the policy and legislative framework that governs the system of correctional services. The structure and function of the department was also overhauled, including the demilitarisation of the organisation.

Six years on, these, unfortunately remain the only notable changes that are as a direct result of the White Paper, and our concern is that new policy provision will not have practical expression if they are imposed on a system that is not designed to support objectives of such policies. The systems of the department, in terms of its organisation, facilities, people and processes remain by and large unsuitable to support the policy objectives of the 2005 White Paper on Corrections.

It was very important, from the onset, for all of us as stakeholders to have appreciated that the policy shift from the apartheid era prison system to a system of Corrections was going to constitute a fundamental transformation, not one which was about the tweaking of the system, but one that changed the core values of the retributive system to one of corrections. It would require overhauling the business requirements completely.It was nothing short of creating a new organisation.

We are confident, however, that progress is being registered in this regard.To date, a Ministerial Task Team of independent experts has conducted a diagnosis of the organisational system and requirements for implementation of the white paper. Following its report last year, we have already established an Enterprise Project Management Office to drive key interventions both in the long term and on quick win basis to stabilise the organisation and establish key system requirements for the implementation of the white paper.

It is this work that we are inviting POPCRU to support us on. The transformation of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), itself a change management process, will require the buy-in of all members and stakeholders. It is important that between POPCRU and ourselves, the political rationale for such process of change is shared commonly, and on that basis be canvassed amongst the members of the DCS who should be the drivers and agents for such change.

Of course, the organisation remains froth with challenges, including organised resistance to transformation and well placed agenda to undermine change efforts.These we have shared with the leadership of the union on various occasions and we continue to find common solution to them.

Chairperson

I remain of the firm view, contrary to the assertions of the political overview by the President that relations between us and POPCRU are sound. I do not view the challenges, which both of us continue to engage on, as indicative of the fact that we do not have sound relations. In fact, the fact that we are engaging at different levels on those challenges is indicative of an existing and healthy relationship.

Of course, as we are all aware, that in the run up to this Congress of POPCRU, certain contestations amongst members of union within the department, have created challenges for our relationship. Particularly in cases where these contestations involved POPCRU members who serve on the Executive Management level of the DCS.

As indicated above, under our leadership of the department, the rights of members of POPCRU and any union for that matter, to hold their union membership will always be protected, and as far as possible we will not be involved in internal dynamics of the any union.

We certainly reject the elevation of what is mainly a discourse about personality clashes within the Union to the level of defining our relationship with POPCRU.

Categorically, we deem it wrong that if there are members, as the political overview seems to suggest, “who are peddling malicious lies and making fictitious allegations to the press”, therefore this must be the equated with the position of the DCS Management in relation to POPCRU.

This impression that the report seeks to create, fails to acknowledge that those dynamics are squarely internal to POPCRU in one province where they have unfortunately manifested themselves in such a way that they affect the effective functioning of the department and its relationship with the union in that province.

Further it is also regrettable that the authors of the report did not acknowledge the many interactions between the leadership of the union and the ministry, at a political level to try and resolve this unfortunate impasse.We remain confident that from the process agreed upon between us the leadership, there should be solutions to the issues at hand, and we appreciate the availability of the union leadership to engage with us on these issues, understanding them for what they really are at all times.

Chairperson

We wouldn’t want an impression to be created that we hold a different position with the union regarding the procurement of Correctional facilities through the Private Public Partnership (PPP) model. As the members are aware, the first step I took upon my appointment as Minister is to call for a review of this method in its current form. This position has been shared with the union leadership on various occasions.

We appreciate that POPCRU supports this view, and we shall report on the consultative process that we are currently engaged in to effect this review.As members are well aware, we have had to suspend the bidding process for tenders that have been already issued before our time. It will not be easy, but we are determined that the current system of milking the resources of the state and abdicating the state role to run correctional centres should be reviewed and done away with.

We share the view that offender labour should be better organised and it is for this reason that we have now finalised the Offender Labour framework and are discussing the funding for this with the National Treasury.

The Ministerial Consultative Forum with Labour that was convened in March this year has paved way for the various provinces to convene the meetings of the Relationship Building Objective. The three months that we have agreed within which the Departmental Bargaining Centre should deal with the averaging of shift systems and determine a shift system agreeable to all of us. We will continue to build these structures aimed at managing our relationship with Labour in general side by side with our ongoing one-on-one engagements with POPCRU in particular.

Lastly, it is our beliefthat it is not only new policies and legislation that will automatically bring about desired transformation within the cluster. Effective transformation will require that members make a contribution individually and organised in the changing of the established culture of our various departments.

We need to instill a culture of patriotism, work ethic and a detest for corruption within the value chain of the criminal justice system.The low levels of discipline within the public service and our cluster in particular, is an “anti people” tendency that can never be supported by those who duty is to defend the gains of freedom. This change in the organisational culture and work ethic should start with each one of us. A strong, dynamic and critical POPCRU remains an important partner in this regard.

I wish this conference success.

Amandla!

I thank you

Source: Department of Correctional Services



Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
28 Jun 2011