The devil is in the doing

2013-02-19 00:00

THE State of the Nation Address has happened and now we wait to see whether President Jacob Zuma meant it when he said: “... this programme of action will be implemented differently as the activities of departments must be aligned with the National Development Plan [NDP]”.

The challenge is whether the government system and its relationship with others will significantly shift in such a manner that the plan is implemented without delay or fail.

In terms of the Constitution, Zuma is the country’s CEO. He is mandated to decide what direction we take, after research and consultation. He has the power to “kick butt”, so to speak, should people undermine this direction.

It is now official that the NDP is “a roadmap to a South Africa where all will have water, electricity, sanitation, jobs, housing, public transport, adequate nutrition, education, social protection, quality health care, recreation and a clean environment”. The specifics are to be outlined by different organs and government departments when they reveal their programmes of action in the coming weeks.

Anything less than delivery on this promise will indicate that Zuma’s leadership is not honoured within the government.

Last September, directors-general were asked by the Cabinet to start translating the plan into a framework of what must be done to make it happen. Such a process was meant to come up with new sets of performance indicators, targets and enablers to be used uniformly by the entire government.

Senior officials were given the opportunity to put the government on a new footing by setting new targets and indicators to guide departmental planning. We must trust that these officials have strong skills in strategic planning and leadership to make the expected change.

The challenge will be for departments to implement the change and for The Presidency to monitor, evaluate and report on performance in a more effective way than it has done previously. The Office of the Presidency, tasked with nationwide performance management, monitoring, evaluation and administration of this, must set out new performance indicators by which they will measure departments’ work. If departments do not change their conduct, then The Presidency will have an opportunity to show leadership by using information gathered to get departments to change their behaviour.

For instance, the economic cluster will have to indicate its intention to introduce regulatory reforms, competition law and infrastructure investment to lower the cost of doing business as outlined in the NDP. It should announce innovative ways to build strong partnerships with the private sector to enhance SA’s role in diverse export markets. It should announce significantly higher investments in research and development to drive innovation to give SA’s economy a stronger competitive edge in the global economy.

There is also the proposal of a Financial Centre for Africa to attract project finance to SA’s benefit, while SA will promote the expansion of financial and services opportunities on the continent. We should look out for specific measures by which SA will support supply chains that underpin regional industrial and agricultural production from which SA stands to benefit handsomely.

With regards to rejuvenating the rural economy, the plan requires strong measures to promote small-scale agriculture, tourism, especially the creative and cultural industry, and mining investments, while public-sector procurement will be used to support rural businesses.

It is the centerpiece of the plan that all its proposals will only succeed if SA acts speedily to build a developmental state able to intervene in the economy to ensure robust economic development and social justice. This includes a major drive to professionalise further the public service insulated from political interference, a strong developmental attitude among public servants, a highly skilled bureaucracy, strong intergovernmental co-ordination and a simplified system of public enterprises.

All the proposals in the plan require that there be strong strategic coherence in the centre of government and that Parliament fully plays its oversight role. Citizens must stand up and hold their government to account to its own ambitious plan. This must begin with an attentive ear and a discerning eye when the departments present the nuts and bolts for making the NDP the new vision for SA going forward.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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