This is not my plan – Manuel

2011-06-12 09:43

What is the shape of the country we want to live in by 2030? The answer is keeping National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel at home. He confirmed he’s not running for the job of IMF chief and released a document on what’s wrong with South Africa. Ferial Haffajee spoke to him.

Nepad, the partnership for Africa’s development, was started by former president Thabo Mbeki. Great ideas seem to pass with great men. How do we sustain the National Planning Commission beyond President Jacob Zuma?

The big issue is to try and get traction for the ideas. When we looked at the Constitution, we asked ourselves why don’t we as a nation own this thing differently. Producing the Constitution required a deep dig. We were able to dig deep within ourselves as a nation.

And we came to the conclusion that it’s this problem of forgetting. Part of what we have to do is fight against the big-man syndrome. The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa are changing the idea of the “big man”.

And as President Jacob Zuma has said: government often takes a sectoral and short-term view and that that has hampered development. We get caught up electoral cycles but when the commission looks to 2030, they don’t build in electoral cycles. The way the 25 commissioners see it is as a plan that pulls us together. If you want that better life, you must plan for it.

The question I ask myself is: as a nation, can we dig deep?

Can we?

Our challenge is to lift the process. Good women and men must lift it so we don’t become ensnared on page 3 of City Press; we have to lift it beyond self-interest.

No longer should we be allowed to be bystanders.I witnessed a fascinating exchange this week. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi spoke about the rings of fire in the country – the largest of which is the timebomb of youth unemployment.

But when the ANC secretary-general spoke later, he wanted to know, whether Vavi in opposing the youth wage subsidy contributed to the rings of fire.

We have to compel people to think beyond their own self-interest. It was a fascinating exchange. And sometimes we need a different texture to the listening we do.

How do we sustain the idea of the NPC and a long-term vision beyond your appointment to the IMF or indeed to another global job?
I’m not going to the IMF, and ministerial jobs are not career jobs.

This privilege I have had of serving in Cabinet for longer than 17 years will end sometime because you must have a rotation. The work I am doing is quite new and exciting, so I am staying.

The interesting dynamic in the commission is that each of these 25 people has a reputation to protect. They are not doing this to be anybody’s lackeys.

The only big question is how sustainable this is. If you ask the commissioners: many would say ‘I’d like to get my life back’. It’s an exciting thing that these people are putting so much time into this thing.

If that ethos can be maintained, then I think it’s going to be the strength of the commission.

The idea is new to South Africa. Tell me about countries where the idea has worked.
It takes a long time to get the norms in place. Probably the first four Indian five-year plans were sub-optimal. The Indian planning commission now works very well and is run by five ministers. The big leverage they have is that the Indian planning commission is responsible for the physical infrastructure budget.

Do you need that leverage?
I don’t think we need that because our model is different. In China, the 12th five-year-plan is very advanced. When we visited China, we would remark on how much had been done and they would always answer: a lot remains to be done.

What remains to be done?
Our energy utilisation must change. We need lower energy consumption per unit of GDP. The rural-urban migration is something we need to work through.

In Malaysia, the plan seemed to work better when former premier Mahathir Mohamad was there and driving it. There were things built in there that were not sustainable. The Proton car (Malaysia’s attempt at import substitution by manufacturing a local car) for example, was not sustainable.

Bhutan. Brazil. These are all good examples of where a plan has worked.

The main focus of the document released this week is on unemployment, our biggest challenge. Can we get a critical mass of South Africans into the same kind of work as our public sector workers and organised miners enjoy?
It can’t be, and certainly not in the short term. There’s a graph in the Reserve Bank’s April quarterly bulletin which shows employment trends – the state is the only employer with increasing employment.But we are employing in the wrong places. In health, it’s in administration (not nurses); in education, it’s in administration. It’s not a sustainable model. The mining sector has shed jobs.

The big challenge (is in the decisions we’ve made): we opted to close nursing colleges. With the benefit of hindsight, it was the wrong decision.

And what we did was compel people to go to university and it’s a battle to get in and to stay in. Your grades need to be strong enough and it’s expensive to keep them there. Now we sit with the situation where we have too few health workers, under stress and it’s unkind where the solution for them is to demand more and more pay. The other problem we have is we have opted not to train artisans. In Mitchell’s Plain (Manuel’s constituency) I met an acquaintance who was the first graduate in his family. His brother trained as an apprentice carpenter. He’s now building houses and has a maintenance contract at a good company.

The graduate said to me: ‘While the family’s still proud of me; my standard of living is way lower than that of my brother’.

The issue of leadership is fundamentally important. Misalignment happens when the planning function’s not there.That’s why you can’t impale a plan on a leader or a head of state.

What does success look like?
It’s getting those conversations going – for me that’s the key performance indicator. To get those ideas and feed it back to people. It’s important to distil the contributions back to people like we did with Tips for Trevor. (This campaign started when Manuel was finance minister and ordinary people could give him their opinions on what they would like to see in the yearly Budget). People liked they could be mentioned – so I’m saying – feedback.

We have a plan South Africans can identify with: this is the country we want in 2030 and within that, it’s about the systems we establish.

And, then, if people are comfortable with the plan, then government will accept it and make the necessary adjustments. In our early work, we have found that the only area that needs more money is health.

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