Guest Column

Mr President, please give us the real SONA in 2019

2019-02-05 16:39
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town on Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town on Friday. (Reuters)

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This year, we ask the president to set aside the up-beat, self-indulgent bunk and give us the real state of South Africa's economic and social performance, writes Wayne Duvenage.

Year after year our presidents have recited a State of the Nation Adress (SONA) to portray an image of a capable government. This image of a nation with good stories to tell and a National Development Plan on track to light up our economy has been touted too often. 

The battle-weary public has become wise to the rhetorical drivel that pervades the presidential SONA speech. Maybe this time things will be different. 

READ: 6 things to look out for in SONA and Budget 2019

The time for a SONA that speaks to truth is now. This year, we ask the president to set aside the up-beat, self-indulgent bunk and give us the real state of South Africa's economic and social performance. 

He should tell us how the past "nine wasted years" have led to the state we are in today, and perhaps do so with a sense of apology from a ruling party that got it so wrong. This can be done by benchmarking our performance with peers and BRICS nations and highlighting the main issues that have led us to our current dismal state. 

Rhetoric around the ruling party's leadership and its achievements along with other good things that lie on the periphery of meaningfulness are to be expected. But what the president must surely know is that the public want to hear about the real state of the nation from his mouth. The one that speaks of our lost opportunities which, if seized, would have put South Africa's GDP around 30% ahead of where we find ourselves today. 

By acknowledging what went wrong and why we have under-achieved, the president will give a new meaning to enlightenment and authentic leadership. This is what the people want from him. As ironic as it sounds, the president will be better positioned to win over public support and get the nation behind him if they hear the truth, warts and all. To hear him say it as it is.  

We long for a SONA speech that speaks of how South Africa's economic growth could have been today, if good governance had reigned over the past decade. One that could have seen our GDP grow by an average of 5% per annum, just as some of our BRICS peers have grown. By limping along at an average of 2% over the past decade we have punched well below our weight and lost around R1,5trn in GDP per annum – in today's terms.

In this SONA speech we implore the president to reflect on our government's costly mistakes. Not to hold back, but instead share his views on the lost potential of our economy and what this could have done for real job creation. 

Tell us how much lower our unemployment rate could have been today and how we could have averted the slide of around 2,7 million additional South Africans below the US$5 per day poverty line between 2011 and 2015. He could even reflect on how our middle-class sector might have surged, along with improved tax collections that would have reduced our national debt: GDP ratio to the sub 20% levels of just over a decade ago, instead of crossing into the 50% plus ranges of recent years. 

Tell us, Mr President, about how government could have paid more attention to quality education, where children placed into decent schools with decent sanitation and books delivered on time, would have impacted on our pass rates and education levels. And how this would have impacted on employability and entrepreneurship that would have driven the small business economy to tap into a R6trn economy, instead of languishing around the R4,7bn mark. 

We would love to hear this year's SONA speech reflect on how far we have dropped in our ranking of "ease of doing business", from 32nd in 2008 to 82nd today and what should have been; and by inference, what will now be done to resolve this situation. 

Tell us how and why poor local government leadership has resulted in only 13% of our municipalities achieving clean audits. And give us assurance on what meaningful actions lie ahead, to remove the negative impact that politicians have had on public administration. 

This SONA, we want to know about our healthcare and road fatalities that emanate from failed ministries that don't quite grasp the reality of "nothing will change if you don't work on it". The president's mention of how Eskom has unnecessarily sucked around R500bn from electricity consumers over the past eight years will send a clear signal that he has grasped the gravitas of our failed state-owned institutions and that he means business and is not afraid of telling it as it is. 

In building up to this year's SONA speech, we trust the president will reflect on South Africa's decline in the World Corruption Perception Index and share his genuine concern about the shift from ranking 43rd a decade ago, to being 71st on the international stage. In so doing, the president will show us that he means business when it comes to fighting corruption in South Africa. This will come from his call to action for advocate Shamila Batohi (new NPA boss) and Dr Godfrey Lebeya (head of the Hawks) to stop at nothing to see the arresting and prosecuting forces come down on those who have fed from the trough of dirty deeds, without waiting for finality of various commissions to run their course. 

We trust the president will tell us that he refuses to interfere in the process as he encourages the rule of law to take its course, starting with those who once occupied or still sit in senior positions of power within the state and business. The message of zero tolerance to corruption will ripple throughout the nation as the president explains how a new corruption summit will gather best international practice to achieve the goals we set as a nation.

Adding to his crescendo of closing remarks, the president could well add how his cabinet will get on with cleaning up and how he will beef up the rule of law with additional mechanisms such as temporary corruption courts, collaboration with civil society and providing additional resources where they are needed most. 

By cutting fast and deep, the cancer of corruption will be addressed and those involved will be put behind bars, whilst we work with international law enforcement agencies to repatriate their ill-gotten gains. The president will assure us that this stuff is achievable through his reference to a number of countries that have successfully tackled corruption and mediocrity in state institutions, thereby lifting their respective nations to new heights. 

"Dream-on" could well be the expected response to this article; "The ANC doesn't work that way, it will be political suicide". Maybe so, but change is still possible, but it requires the one person who has the will and the ability to say it as it is. That person is the president and that time for change is now, more than ever before.  

Yes, many connected and very wealthy people will have to go to jail for their actions and these same people know this. They are very aware of their crimes committed and how they foolishly believed the risk was worth taking because Jacob Zuma, or at least the ANC would always be around to protect them.

The time to show the world that the ANC no longer behaves this way is now.

The opportunity to correct the dire state of our nation is now. It's in your hands Mr President – please give us the truth and the SONA speech that South Africa so desperately needs, yearns for and deserves.  

- Wayne Duvenage is CEO of Outa.

Read more on:    outa  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  sona 2019
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