What is the reality?

2013-10-11 00:00

WE all know that politics, economics and development are messy and complicated. One wonders whether the politicians and technocrats even share common development approaches.

Development is now approached in terms of the economics. Where does this leave the decision-makers, particularly the politicians? This could be an interesting subject to explore, but first, what are economics and politics all about?

Economics is about decisions and choices made to manage scarce resources in a way that best meets the needs and desires of the people. It is about the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

Where does this leave politics?

Does it reduce politics merely to influencing the citizens?

There are selfish interests to manage, and factions and opposition groups are bound to emerge.

When should the development state compromise and when should it stand fast on principles?

This is a subject that is seldom debated in the public space.

Any development intervention should be planned. The local government has a host of planning instruments at its disposal, such as the Integrated Development Plan (IDP), which captures all development projects to be phased in over five years.

It is a fact that public servants are well-informed and aware of the state’s capacity to deliver projects in terms of the IDP. However, political representatives tend to avoid communicating the reality that development cannot be delivered in one day as this can have bitter consequences.

Poverty and despair may provoke feelings of betrayal for millions of struggling households.

Civil disobedience may pollute the service delivery agenda, particularly at local government level and so the development vocabulary transforms service delivery to the politics of the polling booth.

Communities have been heard threatening to use their vote differently to get service delivery. This complicates the professional relationship between councillors and public servants. Consequently, these untold realities tend to belittle development gains.

The power of the polling booth may be overvalued, but it keeps the political representatives on their toes. However, mega-development programmes risk being manipulated as political game changers and this may create the illusion that elections can resolve service delivery problems.

Some public servants have become more powerful than their principals and the question should be asked — do they advise their principals accordingly?

Citizens are made to believe that new leaders can provide the solutions to service delivery frustrations.

What the country may not be hearing from both the service delivery leadership and technocrats is that households are also responsible for their own development.

For decades, civil society organisations have been promoting community led development programmes. These programmes are based on principles of social capital and the defined responsibilities of individual householders.

Citizens are aware that governments come and go. They also know that poverty and human suffering are as old as humankind.

They are able to compare the performance of different regimes, so why do we seem to accumulate more beggars than results-driven development leaders?

Where to now?

The relationship between political representatives and their technocrats should be flagged as a matter of concern.

The civic life of citizens is dependent on a public institution that is established by collective political decisions.

A successful relationship between the public life of a citizen and the affairs of a community is determined by the collective ability to reach and execute collective decisions.

In as much as the country needs democratic debates, the skills set of political representatives, particularly in basic economics, remain the most important component of development.

Understanding economic equations and the ability to translate development experiences into solutions should be one of the key skills required for most public offices.

However, it may be improper to single out economic development as a panacea of development.

There is little critical public knowledge and debate about the relationship between the technocrats and the political bosses.

Communities should be exposed to the basics of expectation management so that they can acknowledge that conflict remains a component of development.

The success of service delivery may be threatened by ignorance of this reality. Political representatives should be in a position to know when to compromise and when to stand on principle.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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