Minister Manuel, where’s the plan?

2011-06-18 12:40

More than a year since the National Planning Commission’s (NPC) ­inaugural launch – 25 part-time commissioners and R63?million later – South Africans have only a “diagnostic overview” to validate what most already knew about the ills of their society and how bad things are today and might be in the future if nothing is done about them.

The shocking news emerged from the ­long-awaited output of the NPC, a body set up by ­President Jacob Zuma to the loud cheers from ­government officials and to the sceptical smirks of many others.

The NPC has delivered, in a very tight compendium, what it considers the hard-hitting core challenges the country faces.

They are daunting and stark realities, and frightening and even ­paralysing truths.

The overview highlights nine challenges that confront the nation and priority areas that ­assess its unpreparedness.

They range from high unemployment, a dysfunctional education system, inadequate infrastructure, the continuous burden of apartheid’s legacy, the unsustainable resource-intensive economy, the ailing public-health system, the public sector’s dismal performance, the plague of deepening corruption, and the lingering ghost of a divided society in search of cohesion.

This is the short story of the timeline, the brain dump compilation of specialist part-timers at an expensive cost to the South African public.

This overview sounds like a damning medical report.

Indeed, this is a savage indictment of the progress of a nation that was borne in the midst of so much hope and potential almost two ­decades ago.

Certainly, many would agree with such a ­scathing assessment of the state of the nation, and I agree as well. Yet there are a few pointers missing in this diagnostic overview.

First, the report could have examined government miscommunications and how they have dramatically contributed to poorly articulate government priorities and failed to create an ­inclusive, shared vision that galvanises all ­constituents of the nation.

Government communication faces enormous challenges and it has not managed to function effectively.

An in-depth analysis of the Government Communication and Information System would have been suitable, as efficient communications could help strengthen much of the dismal miscommunications and poor service delivery that ­undermine the accumulated successes of the past decade.

The training of government ­communicators, while essential, has been ­haphazardly planned and has taken the back seat in the long-term planning of departments.

Second, government departments struggle to communicate quality information about policies that matter most.

They have been in a shambles for almost a decade. As part of their ineffectiveness, they still mismanaged the information ­imperative, the sense that useful information for citizens is important and urgent for wellbeing and sustainable development.

Third, the overview does not emphasise the idea of building the capacity for long-term planning within the various spheres of government.

One of the founding principles of planning is to change the minds of those who craft plans as well as those who receive them. Planning plays a crucial role in determining and guiding how ­nations will behave and survive in the long term.

If this assumption is true, then one ought to ask the following questions: has the diagnostic overview, which is supposedly a building block of the plan to come, helped change the minds of South Africans for the better yet?

Will it help do so soon?

There are other puzzling issues of producing the diagnostic overview, the time horizons and the delivery of the final plan.

Why spend R63?million for a diagnosis that many already recognise in their daily lives?

The original green paper published in 2009 sets the vision’s time horizon to 2025.

Now the diagnostic overview asserts 2030. What is the reason for changing the timeframe?

In addition, so much remains unknown about the work of the NPC itself beside profile sketches on its website and snippets in the media.

The public still has to see the work plan of the NPC regarding the final plan and the vision for 2030.

Will the NPC be relevant in the long term if it is staffed with part-timers? Can it help ­integrate the fragmented planning process that undermines government overall planning ­strategy?

No one said planning was easy. But now that we finally have a tough diagnostic overview, where to from here?

» ?Kouakou teaches scenario planning and government ­communications at Wits University

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