Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Make job creators the most respected people in the country, Mr President

2019-05-19 09:00

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The president must introduce measures to change the attitudes of all officials who run public institutions with direct and indirect influence on the economy to have a focus on job creation, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing unprecedented pressure. It comes from a good place. South Africans want their country to progress. They are tired of being let down by politicians with questionable patriotic credentials.

So it is that, never before in our 25-year history as a democracy a president has faced nation-wide concerns about the composition of his cabinet. South Africans have become fully aware that good governance – or lack of it – starts with the president and the choices he makes.

And this is Ramaphosa's first big test. Will he heed the call to set a high ethical tone for the next five years of his administration or will he try to be Mr Nice towards the ethically challenged?

The second test he faces is whether he can reorient the entire state to be a machinery focused towards a major national priority: creating jobs.

With regard to good governance, public concern is such that many ordinary citizens can easily draw up a cabinet that specifically excludes well-known individuals with a reputation of having held public office with contempt.

Citizens no longer discuss corruption and unethical conduct in abstract terms. These ills have faces. They have symbols in the form of some well-known members of Parliament and ministers. Corruption and unethical behaviour do not fall mysteriously from an unknown hell.

Cabinet appointments are a direct expression of the president's vision about many things, not least his commitment to fighting corruption and getting rid of unethical practices in government. If there is one place where the president's hands are far from being tied, it is the selection of Cabinet.

After promising in the ANC manifesto and in many election speeches that he would cleanse the country of corruption, unethical conduct, state capture and incompetency, Ramaphosa is now facing the first test of his public commitment.

If he doesn't turn his words into action, he would have failed this significant test. The result of the failure would be public dismay at his leadership at inception. Citizens will immediately write off the next five years as wasted and wait with exasperation for the next elections.

Given the fact that we have been through a lot in the last decade, why would Ramaphosa want to subject the country to a collective trauma at the start of his administration? What would we make of his noble "New Dawn" and "Thuma Mina" campaigns through which he sought to reset society's moral compass? He surely cannot afford to turn his promise into electoral hot air.

After appointing a group of ethically sound Cabinet ministers, Ramaphosa must dust off former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's famous "Unsolicited Donations" report. The report was an outcome of an investigation into the conduct of former communications minister Dina Pule who was accused of using public funds for her personal benefit.

Madonsela not only asked then president Jacob Zuma to take action against Pule, making her the first and the last minister to be disciplined. Madonsela also recommended ways to prevent ethical lapses by national ministers and their provincial counterparts. She ordered the minister of public service and administration to implement the following remedial actions:

• Urgently consider subjecting Cabinet ministers and provincial MECs to an ethics seminar;

• ensure that all new ministers attend an ethics seminar within two months of assuming office;

• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is turned into a pocket booklet to be provided to all Cabinet ministers on assumption of office; and

• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is captured in posters to be placed in all executive offices.

The recommendations were not implemented. For Ramaphosa's New Dawn to make sense he must not only appoint a Cabinet with strong ethical credentials, but he must subject them to the process prescribed by Madonsela. The report's recommendations were never subject to judicial review. They still stand.

On the second challenge of job creation, Ramaphosa should immediately introduce measures to change the attitudes of all officials who run public institutions with direct and indirect influence on the economy to have a focus on job creation.

The state cannot create jobs. As things stand it is already bloated. But the private sector can if the regulatory environment allows. Officials of government departments and other state institutions involved in the issuing of licenses and providing regulatory oversight of private sector initiatives should undergo a mindset change that recognises unemployment as a national emergency.

From ministers who often meet business leaders to front-desk clerks and other officials who are recipients of business license applications – all should undergo a mindset shift attuned to growing the economy and creating jobs. No rhetoric will create jobs. Actions will.

Job creators should be the most respected people in the country. The government should bend over backwards to make it easy for them to create jobs in an environment of fair labour practices and inclusive growth. For as long as we have investors who feel that they have to beg government officials to plough their money into the country, we will not create jobs. The crippling thing called policy uncertainty should come to an end as soon as possible.

South Africa is not the only country looking for investments to create jobs. There is a tough global competition. But, are politicians and front-desk officials in all government departments and state institutions aware that how they respond to business applications or inquiries is a significant part of this competition?

Many countries are luring investors based in South Africa. For example, each time there is load shedding, a South African-based company that runs smelters would receive hundreds of calls from other countries with reliable and cheap energy luring them to locate their plants there. It's a tough competition to get and keep investors.

The decline in investment and employment rates notwithstanding, South Africa's potential suggests that not everyone in government understands that the investor is king. It's time Ramaphosa changed this.

Having held investment conferences, it's time he and a group of competent ministers undertook a road show and met all companies that have potential to create jobs. They must enquire about state-imposed constraints and tailor-make solutions for them. Every gesture towards encouraging investment and job creation should count.

 - Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  unemployment
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