The most pressing challenge facing South Africa at the moment is the need to build a capable state, says President Cyril Ramaphosa, following his recent trip to the Northern Cape.
“Walking through the streets of Kimberley and other towns in the Northern Cape a fortnight ago drove home the point that if we are to better the lives of South Africans, especially the poor, we need to significantly improve the capacity of the government that is meant to improve their lives,” he said in his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday.
“It was disheartening to see that, despite progress in many areas, there were several glaring instances of service delivery failures. Many of the places we visited struggle to provide social infrastructure and services simply because they have such a small revenue base. But, in some cases, elected officials and public servants have neglected their responsibilities.”
He said that a common feature in most of these towns, which is evident throughout all spheres of government, is that the state often lacks the necessary capacity to adequately meet people’s needs.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the achievement of such a state was undermined by weak implementation.
“Poor coordination and alignment between departments and lack of effective oversight has meant that policies and programmes have not had the necessary impact on people’s lives.”
He said his administration had prioritised the task of building a capable state.
Much of this work was happening behind the scenes, ensuring that policies were aligned, processes were streamlined, technology was effectively deployed, budgets were adhered to and programmes were properly monitored and evaluated.
“A capable state starts with the people who work in it,” he said.
“Officials and managers must possess the right financial and technical skills and other expertise. We are committed to end the practice of poorly qualified individuals being parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage. There should be consequences for all those in the public service who do not do their work.”
He said that a capable state also meant that state owned enterprises needed to fulfil their mandates effectively and add value to the economy.
“State companies that cannot deliver services – such as during load-shedding – or that require continual bailouts – such as SAA – diminish the capacity of the state. That is why a major focus of our work this year is to restore our state-owned entities to health.
“We will do this by appointing experienced and qualified boards and managers. We will be clarifying their mandates, and give them scope to execute those mandates.”
Ramaphosa believed that the district-based delivery model would ensure that no district would be left behind.
He hailed is as a break from the “silo” approach, where different parts of government operate separately from each other.
“This aims to produce a single, integrated district plan in line with the vision of: ‘One District, One Plan, One Budget, One Approach’. It will give us a clearer line of sight of what needs to be done, where, how and with what resources. By pooling resources, by focusing on projects that directly respond to community needs, and by setting delivery targets on a district-by-district basis, we will be able to better meet our people’s needs.”
Ramaphosa acknowledged that this would not happen overnight.
“Much of the work will not be immediately apparent. But as we make progress, people will notice that the government does things faster.”