Is the message getting through?

2013-10-18 00:00

THE language we employ in service delivery is informed by transformation ideals and higher development goals. But it can also transmit messages that discourage people from contributing positively to the development agenda. It may discourage voluntary initiatives and innovation.

I want to argue that a fraction of our leaders are responsible for encouraging entitlement, complacency and destructive civil disobedience. We should be brave enough to ask — is it right to burn taxpayers’ money by destroying public infrastructure when we are unhappy with our public representatives?

The state is frustrated. The sustainability of projects is questionable. Community ownership has lost its meaning. Voluntarism has been transformed into job seeking and getting closer to decision-making circles. These frustrations should lead to reflection and learning.

There are a few elements that may produce reactionary behaviours in terms of development. Social and economic development programmes are developed with good intentions. However, the implementation of the programmes may also promote entitlement and total dependency on the state. The language of service delivery may have transformed households into beneficiaries, instead of active players in their own development.

The same can be said of business incentives and subsidies that are communicated as grants, and in some instance, are disbursed to beneficiaries instead of businesses.

There is a consensus that the land-reform programme is one of the most critical factors for a successful democratic dispensation. Welfare grants are also necessary. Low-cost housing is equally important. The delivery of public infrastructure cannot be disputed. Economic development is dependent on economic infrastructure. The list goes on and on. But at what point do we miss the target?

There is a huge disconnect between development technocrats and some political representatives who are responsible for communicating the public sector’s development agenda.

The service-delivery programme aims to provide an enabling environment for citizens to take control of their own development. Spheres of government are also charged with facilitating institutional processes that help provide an enabling environment. Despite the enabling environment, beneficiaries may not rise above the state-grant mentality, and so may not succeed. A key challenge could then be the beneficiaries themselves, or the environment is not as conducive as the government believes it is. If participants remain beneficiaries, and if they believe that they are entitled to state grants, and more importantly, if they are not putting in sufficient effort, they are not likely to succeed whatever the environment is.

At the bottom of our collective agenda is that we do not want to reproduce failed citizens who are perpetually dependent on the state. It is becoming urgent that the leadership starts communicating clear development messages that encourage the positive participation of citizens. Associated with this are complicated economic-inclusion processes. Who should be championing the economic-inclusion agenda? Should it be public officials or experienced business entrepreneurs?

Economic inclusion is full of complications. Local economic-development officers in many municipalities are thrown into the deep end and are expected to champion the business community. Rural entrepreneurs are discouraged by the complicated processes for accessing business support.

The financial sector is blamed for not doing enough to support new entrants. The relationship between the private and public sector is infested with suspicion. This complicates the life of new businesses, particularly rural entrepreneurs. The private sector demands that the government provides an enabling environment for business. The public sector expects business to achieve the national goals of economic inclusion in all sectors of the economy. Many political representatives at local-government level are not equipped to champion dialogues to improve the relationship between business and the public sector.

This leads us to the next question. What is it that public and private institutions are not doing to support economic inclusion? The country can no longer afford to delay tackling the culture of entitlement and dependency on the state. It has become urgent that the leadership refrain from utterances that encourage people to belief that they will receive state support even where it is inappropriate. Associated with this is the reliance on public contracts, as the country may be producing businesses that may not be resilient enough to compete in the open market. Our successful development depends on communicating appropriate and realistic development messages.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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