Help or hindrance?

7th July 2023

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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It’s far from ideal that several of South Africa’s main microeconomic problems are being managed by crisis committees made up of government officials, business representatives and consultants.

This development highlights not only the serious skills crisis afflicting the public sector but also an inability of the current administration to ensure that the political principals responsible for addressing these problems are fully committed to the reform agenda and to its implementation.

It also runs the risk of the profit-motive tail wagging the economic-development dog, particularly in the absence of clear Parliamentary accountability and if there is an obvious asymmetry between the expertise of the private sector representatives and their public sector counterparts.

Likewise, it could further entrench the current unhappy trend of bureaucrats becoming overly reliant on outside assistance to do the very work for which they are being paid, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill twice over.

In the long run, the only sustainable way of ensuring that the public sector is properly equipped to do its policymaking and implementation work is to build capacity internally and to match that capacity with an organisational culture that is resistant to corruption and is responsive to the overall strategy that is being driven by the democratically elected government of the day.

As with every decision and course of action, however, context matters.

And the current South African context is one where years of State capture have given rise to a largely incapable State, enveloped by policy incoherence, implementation apathy and penetrated by bad actors.

It’s a hostile atmosphere made nearly uninhabitable by the current lack of political will among some Ministers to tackle those issues posing the greatest obstacles to growth, development and job creation.

With only slim prospects for an entirely new dispensation, and with municipal coalitions pointing to the potential for yet more destabilisation in future, organised business, motivated by enlightened self-interest, has decided to back the administration’s reformers in a bid to move the needle in the direction of an improved investment and business climate.

If crisis committees are treated as temporary solutions to deep yet temporary problems, there is arguably potential for them to deliver without dealing a fatal blow to democratic principles and institutions.

Tackling the power and rail crises, for instance, will boost confidence at a time when many South Africans are giving up hope and some, particularly those with skills and means, are voting with their feet.

Progress in these two areas will also stimulate growth and investment, which remain key ingredients for dealing with rampant poverty and unemployment, which both play a role in the country’s security crisis.

The injection of skills and mentorship into key departments and State-owned companies could also play a role in setting new standards of professionalism and ethics, and could help lay the foundation for a new culture in the public sector.

As highlighted above, however, the risk to good governance is clear for all to see, and cannot afford to be dismissed or ignored.

Edited by Terence Creamer
Creamer Media Editor




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