The way forward

2009-06-25 00:00

EVEN from within, there is now widespread acknowledgement that government, at all three tiers, has not achieved enough service delivery in the past 15 years and that more can be done to improve the lives of ­people.

In the run-up to the April elections, the African National Congress admitted that more still needs to be done for poor people and premier Dr Zweli Mkhize’s recent state of the province address did justice to the development needs of the province when he focused on poverty alleviation through rural development and an agrarian revolution, while not forgetting other pressing issues such as infrastructure investment, tourism, fighting crime and corruption and the need for economic growth.

The backdrop to these plans, however, is an economic recession, which makes their implementation a whole lot more difficult and calls for a different approach.

Mkhize spoke about convening a job and economic recovery summit to address the issue of job loss and economic growth during the economic meltdown. The premier said that one of the priorities of the summit would be to save jobs. The commitments made by Mkhize were reinforced by MEC for Finance Ina Cronjé in her budget address this week. Both Mkhize and Cronjé argued that KwaZulu-Natal has been the hardest hit by the recession and Cronjé’s budget spoke to how economic growth will be stimulated and job opportunities created at the same time.

Importantly, the address also committed government in the province to do away with wasteful expenditure.

Such a commitment is long overdue. Spending on splashy events such as sod-turning ceremonies, over-the-top advertising and marketing gimmicks intended to market an institution that shouldn’t need such promotion to begin with, has resulted in ­millions of wasted rands that could have been more usefully used to fight HIV/Aids or to ­revamp deteriorating public hospitals. Or the money could have done its bit in alleviating the plight of the poverty stricken.

But I believe Cronjé was right when she said that the worst thing to do during a recession is to ­reduce legitimate government spending.

“Increased spending, given the fiscal constraints obviously, has proved to be one of the most effective methods of mitigating the impact of a recession because it has the effect of stimulating economic growth,” she argued. When the economy is stimulated, job ­creation is set to follow. The provincial government has laid its cards on the table, so to speak, about what it intends to do in the next five years.

In any event, the mandate from the electorate is clear and, recession or not, there cannot be any further delay. Recession or not, people are tired of starving and being lied to by government officials and politicians who talk as if they understand the plight of the poor but who, when they are done ­schmoozing, jump into flashy SUVs and luxury cars and drive off to their mansions, forgetting that many of the people who afford them these lifestyles do not have water, roads or electricity. They cannot access antiretroviral treatment and their children study in classrooms that have broken windows and doors.

It’s time for government to work. The last 15 years have achieved some of the mandates from the people but other instructions from the public to government have not been achieved. It is the job of government to deliver, but this time around they will have more success if they work with the recipients of the services. Players such as business people, opposition parties, alliance partners, interest groups, media and civil formations, can play a critical role in service delivery, economic growth, poverty alleviation and development.

Particularly in these trying ­economic times, government must realise that it does not have all the answers. In a partnership with the citizens, through debates characterised by transparency, dedication, selflessness and the need to see this country succeed in uniting and reaching new frontiers, government has to take the citizens seriously and work with us, not just for us.

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