Clem Sunter

How to implement the National Development Plan

2013-03-11 14:36

Clem Sunter

Sometimes I go to a function not knowing what to expect but come away totally exhilarated. Such was the case last Friday at an event which celebrated International Women’s Day. I was asked to be a panellist at the Women’s Forum at Citi South Africa which was held in their offices in Sandton. It consisted of members of staff, mainly women but with a sprinkling of men.  My fellow panellists were Devi Govender as MC, the intrepid journalist for Carte Blanche, and Jerry Vilakazi, business leader and member of the National Planning Commission.  The topic chosen was the National Development Plan (NDP).

The following points emerged from the lively discussion with much audience interaction towards the end:

1. The NDP is a plan drawn up by South Africans for South Africans. It is not a government-formulated document. It comprises a diagnosis of our problems and then a series of steps to resolve them up to the year 2030.  Poverty, inequality and unemployment are the root cause of our society’s ills and chief among the targets set is to reduce unemployment to 6% by 2030 by creating another 11 million jobs to go with the 13 million we already have.

2. The ANC Conference at Mangaung in December 2012 universally supported the NDP as the way forward. It has now been adopted as official government policy and the five-year plans of individual government departments now have to register how they are going to contribute to the achievement of the plan in its first phase. It is acknowledged by senior ministers that critical to the success of the plan is the elimination of corruption and wastage, transparent tendering procedures where the best company wins and cost-effectiveness as an essential driving force in implementing the plan. Several ministers have already made it clear that they will not tolerate the status quo and heads will roll when they encounter opposition to change.

3.  The NDP calls for active citizenry in the plan’s implementation. Yet, from the audience’s response, there is widespread ignorance of the plan’s content and also a scepticism about its probable success given the current absence of proper service delivery at so many levels of society. Also, no sense of excitement has been generated around the NDP amongst the public despite the passion of the President and individual ministers for it. In order to achieve popular participation in the plan’s delivery process, two essential steps are required:
-    An information blitz across all media platforms (printed, TV, radio, the internet etc.) and in all indigenous languages simplifying the content of the NDP and making it readily understandable. Even reality TV programmes showing people doing their bit could be considered; and
-    Identifying a few easily implementable initial steps that can build the momentum in achieving the objectives of the plan during the first few years and making sure that those short-term goals are met and highly publicised. The plan is not all talk.

4.  It is recognised by the compilers of the NDP that 90% of the jobs to be created by 2030 to bring the unemployment rate down to 6% will be in the small enterprise sector. However, both the panel and the audience recognised that the current environment for new entrepreneurs to emerge is not favourable for two reasons:  the highly consolidated nature of South Africa’s economy where much of the space is dominated by big business.  We are no longer a frontier economy with low barriers of entry in the mining, manufacturing and service sectors.  Secondly, a whole series of factors such as bureaucratic over-regulation; the absence of prompt payment for services rendered by entrepreneurs to government and big business; labour laws that are too rigid; the difficulty of accessing capital to finance small new ventures; and, critically, the lack of support for emerging farmers in the rural areas combine to make it almost impossible to visualise an entrepreneurial revolution taking place. These obstacles have to be addressed.

5.  While everyone accepts that unions are part and parcel of a modern economy, it is envisaged that aspects of the NDP will meet stout resistance from the union moment. Bear in mind that the vast majority of jobs to be created will, to begin with, be non-unionised and therefore will not swell union membership. Only those companies that progress to the status of medium to large enterprises will eventually be unionised. Thus, the government as the elected body of the people will have to play a critical leadership role in allaying union concern and may at times have to show determination that the NDP must not be undermined from any quarter. Showdowns are possible and the government should not flinch as the prime organ of democracy from keeping the NDP on track.

6.  The success of the NDP will be significantly enhanced if the private sector – and particularly big business – enthusiastically endorses it and participates in its implementation. If government is unwilling to call for an Economic Codesa at this stage, perhaps the CEOs of the major companies that make up the South African economy should organise a summit of their own to provide the clout that the plan needs to get the show on the road. As one participant enquired, why not overcome the natural tendency of South Africans to walk behind government and for once in one’s life walk in front?  Another suggestion was that each major company should call “town hall” meetings with its employees to identify those areas where the company could maximise its contribution to the NDP.

All in all, I walked out of the Citi Women’s Forum feeling a lot more motivated about the future of this troubled land than when I walked in. Judging from the enthusiastic applause at the end, I think the rest of the people in that room felt the same.

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