Source: Department of Labour
Title: Ramashia: Statement on Nedlac HIV/AIDS task team
STATEMENT ON THE NEDLAC HIV/AIDS TASK TEAM BY ADV RAMS RAMASHIA, DIRECTOR- GENERAL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR, 19 February 2003
Highly esteemed colleagues from various media houses, I have called this press conference to address you in my capacity as Overall Convenor of Government at Nedlac.
Confusion has been reigning supreme in the minds of the public regarding the process and the outcome of the HIV/AIDS task team set-up by the Nedlac Management Committee on 20 September 2002.
As Government's chief negotiator at Nedlac, I have deemed it proper and fitting to discharge my obligation to inform the citizenry on the true state of affairs regarding this matter and thereby dispel mendacious perceptions and debunk a myth which some of the media houses have helped to propagate; ostensibly because they believed the same to be true. Indeed some of these half-truths were packaged with the smartest form of sophistication, which would elude even the finest investigative journalist. But no amount of spin doctoring can constitute a sufficient substitute for what is truthful, accurate and factual.
Various media reports have suggested that spokespersons of the Labour constituency and the Treatment Action Campaign, respectively; have claimed that the HIV/AIDS task team has reached an agreement at Nedlac, which has been signed by Labour and Community and that the Government and Organised Business constituencies were refusing to sign an agreement whose architecture and tapestry they participated in designing.
I would like to categorically and unequivocally state today as I did in a media statement I released on 1 December 2002 that the assertion that Nedlac parties have reached agreement on this matter is false, and devoid of truth.
An account of a chronological order of events regarding this matter will help clarify issues:
1. In the Management Committee of the 20th of September 2002, it was agreed that the above task team be established to engage on the issue of HIV/AIDS with an intention to find consensus on how social partners could work together to address the issue of HIV/AIDS.
2. A document co-sponsored by Cosatu and TAC, arising out of a conference held on 27 - 29 June 2002 was tabled as a basis for a discussion aimed at galvanising a common position on issues such as voluntary testing, counselling, prevention, treatment etc. The title of the said document is: "REPORTS AND RESOLUTIONS OF THE COSATU/TAC NATIONAL HIV/AIDS TREATMENT CONGRESS - AUGUST 2002".
3. The Labour and Community constituencies proposed that an agreement, on the content of the said document, must be reached by the 1st of December 2002 and be announced on World AIDS Day.
4. Government constituency placed on the record the fact that given the intractability of the issues raised in the text and what was demanded of Government to do, it was unlikely that an agreement on everything proposed on the document would be reached by the proposed date. Government, however, reiterated its commitment to work with social partners with the intention to reach consensus on as many issues as possible by the said date.
5. Government also indicated that there was a task-team which has been established, consisting of officials from Treasury and the Department of Health to carry out a comprehensive research on what more Government could do in addition to what it is already doing to further intensify its efforts in fighting against HIV/AIDS. The research would also make findings on what resources and infrastructure is needed to achieve that. Government also invited social partners to participate in this process to ensure an informed outcome.
6. Government noted that many of the programs proposed in the Cosatu/TAC draft text already formed part of Government's interventions in addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS. It was further noted that some of those interventions could be further enhanced by the contribution of social partners.
7. Government requested that the aspects of the text that deal with creating pilot sites for rolling out of antiretrovirals be square 'bracketed' because it pre-empted the outcome of the process referred to above.
8. Further more, Government could not commit itself to targets and time frames proposed in the draft text without a full appreciation of the financial and infrastructural consequences, which were yet to be quantified through the research.
9. In the period leading to 1 December 2002, the Sunday Independent newspaper published an article that suggested that an agreement has been reached at Nedlac, which; according to the said report "shall result in Government rolling out the supply of antiretrovirals in all State hospitals".
10. Government released a statement to correct the inaccurate report. The Government's statement indicated that Government was committed to engaging social partners to find a joint solution in responding to the challenge of HIV/AIDS, but further clarified that no agreement had yet been reached. The said statement was carried in the SABC radio news bulletins on the evening of 1 December 2002.
11. The task team has not met since the beginning of the year, in part because some of its members from Business, Labour and Community constituency were still on holiday until the latter part of January.
12. During the period leading to the Management Committee originally scheduled for 17 January 2003, Cosatu spokesperson, Vukani Mde, was quoted in the media as saying that Government and Business must sign "an agreement" reached at Nedlac before the Management Committee. This statement undoubtedly created a false impression in the minds of those not conversant with the facts, that the Nedlac Task Team had indeed reached an agreement.
13. At the Management Committee held on the 31st of January 2003, the HIV/AIDS committee was required to report on its work. At that meeting it was noted that while substantial progress was made since the establishment of the task team, negotiations on the bracketed text have not yet been concluded. At the same meeting the Business constituency also announced that it had compiled a document, which would be circulated after the meeting.
14. I indicated to the Management Committee that the perception created by certain individuals within the Labour constituency and in the TAC; that an agreement has been reached and that Government was refusing to sign "an agreement" was not helping the process but that it created confusion which could render the negotiation process tenacious.
15. The Labour constituency announced at the Management Committee meeting that they together with TAC and other civil society groups were organising a march scheduled to take place on the opening of Parliament.
16. A Government delegation indicated, that while the right to protest is a democratic one and sanctioned by the Constitution, that it was unwise to resort to that option while the task team was still seeking to find consensus on bracketed issues.
17. Discussions in the Management Committee of 31 January 2003 clearly reflect that the Management Committee of Nedlac, which include Labour and Community constituencies, do not share the perception that there is an agreement that Government and Organised Business were refusing to sign.
18. Indeed it was at that Management Committee that all constituencies noted that substantial progress has been made regarding this matter and the various constituencies were urged to complete their consultative and mandating processes with their principals so that the task team may conclude its work.
19. It was at the same meeting that as Government Convenor, I appealed to convenors of other constituencies to beseech their spokespersons to desist from issuing inaccurate statements that suggest that Nedlac parties have reached an agreement on issues, which we were still negotiating and consulting on.
20. On Friday, 14 February 2003, a full-page advert was placed in the Business Day. The introduction read in part:
"THIS DOCUMENT WAS AGREED TO BY THE NEDLAC HIV/AIDS TASK TEAM MADE OF GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS, LABOUR AND COMMUNITY NEGOTIATORS ON 29 NOVEMBER 2002".
Government vehemently denies that what appears in advert was agreed to and would like to challenge anyone who avers or asserts the contrary to submit proof of such agreement.
When asked about the so-called agreement during an SABC interview, the President confirmed that no such agreement existed.
Yesterday's Cape Times carried an article entitled "Mbeki's denial of HIV pact upsets Cosatu". In the said article Cosatu was reported to have said that the President's utterances were "a wilful distortion of the nature of Nedlac process".
Not only is Cosatu's statement a misrepresentation of the truth, but is also indespicably and unjustly casts aspersion on the credibility and integrity of the President. This has to be viewed in a serious light especially because the President's utterances were an accurate reflection of the truth.
When social partners conclude any negotiation process at Nedlac, a Nedlac report is compiled. Such report indicates areas of agreement and areas in which parties disagree. As Convenor of Government, I would like to place on record that no such report has yet been compiled. The reason is simple. The task team has not concluded its work. In fact a perusal of the advert in question also testifies to the fact that the text constitutes "work in progress".
Instead of posturing and grandstanding on such a serious and critical issue, Government is of the opinion that the task team should reconvene as soon as possible to discuss proposals aimed at strengthening the progress that Government and other constituencies are already rolling-out. We remain convinced that a partnership approach to addressing the challenge of HIV/AIDS will be in the best interest of the country.
Government would also like to place on record that while parties continue to engage at Nedlac; Government continues to carry out its programs aimed at addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS.
Issued by Department of Labour
19 February 2003