Zuma’s efforts derailed by incapable state

2015-02-10 08:15

We audited President Zuma’s promises in 2014. The outcome: good. Can do better

State of the nation 2014

President Jacob Zuma is an extraordinarily hard-working leader, but his efforts are derailed by an incapable state.

No slouch, the president keeps up a punishing schedule, and works to a system of strategic frameworks and ministerial performance agreements in systems that former president Thabo Mbeki was not able to institutionalise.

This enables a transparent system of state management that suggests two things. The president is more successful than the national narrative suggests; and the state’s incapability is deeper than we think.

President Zuma largely met goals that entailed amending laws and policies or making key appointments and establishing systems.

The empowerment codes were toughened, as were employment ­equity targets and reporting requirements.

An Urban Development Framework was passed, as was a Youth Employment Accord that’s ­quietly bearing fruit as it brings government and business together to find innovative solutions for the 3?million young people who do not have jobs.

A youth tax incentive is working slowly, but it’s working.

But elsewhere, it is glaringly obvious that while the ANC government has expanded the size of the state, it has yet to reap a developmental dividend from this.

There are 2.16?million public service employees and hundreds of thousands of paid community service workers and people employed in public works.

Even state-owned enterprises proved incapable this year. Apart from Transnet, other key public companies were headaches. Eskom flailed as it lost a leadership team, SAA is bedevilled by losses and a warring board, the Post Office was riven by strikes and failed to recapitalise Postbank – the latter undertaking was a key plank of last year’s address.

Economic performance goals like state-led growth of 5% by 2019 look like a distant dream – even optimistic Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago has it pegged at 2.2% this year.

This week, towns and townships across Gauteng, North West and Uitenhage exploded in service-delivery protests. It was the same in the second week of February last year. The list of grievances across them is nearly always the same – water and sanitation problems, housing and local grievances.

Though the president promised to start 100 water and sanitation ­projects last year, the final tally is much lower. Even when a project is started, it is unlikely to be completed timeously, within budget and with due efficiency.

Between last year’s state of the nation address and the upcoming one, the president’s national teams have placed numerous municipalities under the administration of agencies and national authorities.

But this is palliative and does not address the failure of local government in small towns and rural districts. Even metropolitan councils like Johannesburg do not deliver sufficient good news to enable the state of the nation to tally the effective progress at this level of the state.

Education is a better story, where progress is finally linear and pointed slightly north. But the steps and policy changes put in place can only be measured well past the president’s retirement in 2019.

The building of new universities in Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Gauteng (a medical university) will win plaudits on Thursday, as will the fact that the ground’s been broken on 12 new technical college sites.

Last year, the president set himself a tough set of energy policy goals, but the end of the era of cheap and available electricity caught up sooner than his intelligence predicted.

So, rather than spending the year ­sculpting a new energy future, the Cabinet ended the political year ­starting a war room to manage load shedding.

Zuma: Here’s what I’ve done

A big plus the president is likely to highlight is that state procurement has been centralised (this is a massive anticorruption effort), but he is unlikely to highlight that the Special Investigating Unit, the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (the Hawks) and the SA Revenue Service are now headless.

This will hamper efforts to fight corruption – in two of these instances, sources detect a presidential hand of interference.

President Mbeki set up the state of the nation as an audit of his previous year’s policies. It was his style to run South Africa like a manager. This method quickly eviscerated the quality of the state of the nation address as a barometer of the pulse of the nation.

It is an audit of achievements and plans, where each Cabinet minister or cluster of ministers say what they have done. It is edited like a ­shopping list, which moves methodically through each area of governance, but it is as dull as ditch water.

The graphics give you a sense of what it will include, but my wish is for our president to ditch the script. Most melodic in isiZulu, he could so deliver it and speak to the hearts of his core support base.

Highlight the many achievements of his administration for poor South Africans – this week’s poverty statistics are high, but they do highlight that the household income limit has been raised.

And we don’t make enough of the fact that 18?million South Africans now receive social grants.

If he likes, the president could throw in a line or two about how awful load shedding is for the economy and promise to consider business’ very practical ideas unveiled this week.

As a killer punch, he might end by stating his intention to #paybackthemoney, or at least some of it.

This would win space to continue good initiatives that seldom get enough airplay and take the wind out of the sails of the Economic ­Freedom Fighters to disrupt Thursday’s address.

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