NGP fizzles out in policy fatigue

2010-12-11 08:09

The greatest disappointment of 2010 has been the hashed advent of the New Growth Path (NGP).

Not even a month after its launch and this vital tool for our future is entirely off the national agenda.

It is not even a talking point though this new economic policy agenda was meant to be the jewel in the crown of President Zuma’s palette of policies.

I was hoping for a plan that we could put our hearts and energies behind to galvanise the nation into work – a focus point as profound as the constitution-making process and the World Cup were for South Africa.

Why has the plan failed?

In seeking to be all things to all people and to keep his constituencies happy, the president has created a system of internal governing tension that is not always creative.

Economic policy has been turned into a tug of war.

We are not quite sure who is in charge and so economic policy has become a guessing game about which of the four ministers are in charge and who is chasing which agenda.

The four ministers are Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

In the end, all the NGP became was yet another document alongside Gordhan’s medium-term budget policy statement, Davies’ industrial policy documents and Manuel’s forthcoming national plan.

The rapid national amnesia around the NGP suggests ours is a country with policy fatigue.

We saw it as yet another plan and not as the national vision and focus we so desperately need in order to move from a developing to a developed nation.

In the past three weeks, I’ve interrogated my own lack of excitement in the path, which we’ve waited for.

In addition to an absence of cohesion, the presentation lacked oratory or symbolism.

The plan should have been presented by the president with Cabinet present, and should have been a careful and considered strategy of all four ministers, who are individually clever but who don’t gel as an economic planning team.

Instead of raising a debate of trade-offs like wage and bonus restraint, a massive step forward would have been for Cabinet to show us how to do it by accepting a wage and bonus restraint.

The one-man show did not work. Patel is a lacklustre politician with old-style politics.

He remains a union man, as is perfectly clear from his ideologically bound smackdown of black empowerment.

In addition, he carved no space for the private sector to buy into the growth path and if you read the document carefully, you will see that business is consigned only to a role of agent of state regulation.

This is at odds with Patel’s plea for social partnership that is laced through the path as its core political philosophy.

It is thus no surprise that business condemned and then ignored the plan, which should have by this time been at the centre of its deliberations.

While liberal commentators have given the minister kudos for his sideswipe at BEE, we should be careful to distinguish between tenderpreneurship and empowerment, which are very different things.

Without effective empowerment, the economy would not have grown in the early years of the 21st century.

The consumer boom is attributed in some measure to the growth of a black middle class.

Patel now threatens to throw the baby out with the bath water with the dodgy plan to turn BEE into a poverty alleviation exercise.

It shouldn’t be: BEE must be a broad-based effort to create a middle class that is large and self-sufficient, thus freeing up more fiscal power for the poor.

The NGP should have been an end-of-year gift to the nation to energise us for the coming year.

Instead, it has fizzled out and smoked like a New Year firecracker caught in a thunderstorm.

All promise.

No performance.

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