OPINION | Recovery 'master plans' are good and well, but action is what's needed

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Skyline of Johnnesburg at sunset from the Carlton Tower
Skyline of Johnnesburg at sunset from the Carlton Tower
Allan Baxter

In the first of this three-part series, Thozamile Botha argued SA doesn't need a new economic plan – existing platforms, including Nedlac, can be used to help drive economic growth. In this second chapter, Botha discusses how.

Leading up to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) this year, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) outlined what it hoped President Cyril Ramaphosa would say.

Among other things, it stressed the importance of implementing the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP).

For its part, meanwhile, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF) had in January released document of its own calling for the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to reconvene to conclude a Strategic Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (SERRP).  

An economic plan – what plan?

In its document, the TMF cited an economic plan previously presented by Business for South Africa, titled A New Inclusive Economic Future for South Africa: Delivering an Accelerated Economic Recovery Strategy (AERS).

The AERS focuses on 10 growth and development sectors, five of which include (i) SMMEs, Township and Rural Economy, (ii) Mining, (iii) Manufacturing, (iv) Agriculture and (v) Tourism and Leisure. 

The AERS document amounts to at least 1 000 pages. Evidently, the business lobby prepared detailed plans for each of the ten sectors it identified. 

One might assume that these sectoral plans are themselves coherent and inclusive, and would serve as a sound basis for common reflection by the social partners, helping them to emerge with what would ultimately become Nedlac sectoral plans.

Logic suggests that the considerable work that has already been done to create these ten sectoral plans should help expedite the process of reaching consensus within Nedlac on the ERRP.

Planning in the ERRP

The ERRP, however, takes a somewhat different approach regarding the planning processes.

It focuses on what are called "master plans", which Ramaphosa described to Parliament last year as "a vital part of growing our industrialisation effort", arguing that they brought all partners together to agree on specific measures to improve productivity, investment and competitiveness.

Ramaphosa told Parliament on 21 October that the finalisation of the master plans was being accelerated so that the various economic sectors could be ready and equipped to meet demand locally and abroad.

Understandably, the Cosatu statement on SONA discusses these master plans.

It says:

"Finalising the 15 sectoral master plans, those can immediately unlock economic growth and create jobs. Progress has been made in the auto-manufacturing, poultry, clothing and textile, and sugar manufacturing master plans.

"Green shoots are beginning to emerge as a result. However, other sector master plans remain  worryingly far behind. Sectors of particular concern include renewable energy, hemp, mining, digital communications, and technology." 

Some obvious questions arise. For instance, given that a master plan for poultry has been concluded:

  • will there be a master plan for beef?
  • will there be a master plan for mutton?
  • will there be a master plan for citrus fruit? 

…et cetera. Cosatu has also said that a master plan for mining is outstanding. 

According to Minerals Council president Mxolisi Mgojo, the mining industry, through B4SA, has done an "enormous amount" of work contributing towards a competitive mining sector and driving investment in SA.

I believe that a worker will ask: Has Cosatu considered the option for social partners to examine and amend the ten sectoral plans in the AERS, including integrating the concluded master plans, so that they may accelerate ensuring that key economic sectors are ready and equipped to meet the demand both locally and abroad? 

What exactly must happen – and when?

What Cosatu expected ahead of the SONA went beyond the master plans.

It called for the necessary "details and definitive timeframes" relating to other elements of the ERRP. 

For instance: With regard to the infrastructure programme, it called for specifics on the modernisation of ports, the upgrading of freight rail, the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, the boosting of agriculture, and the rebuilding of a decimated and vandalised Metrorail.

Regarding energy, Cosatu called for an update on progress by government, Eskom, and business with regards to investing in new-generation capacity, accelerating maintenance, eradicating corruption, and wasteful expenditure.

On state-owned enterprises (SOEs), Cosatu noted: "What is not clear is the vision for these SOEs and the road map to ensure they shift from being burdens to the state to enablers of economic growth and job creation."

About building a capacitated developmental state and fighting corruption, Cosatu called for specifics on the rebuilding of what were once functioning departments, municipalities, entities and SOEs.

Indeed, there are other matters on which Cosatu demanded "details and definitive timeframes". 

In my understanding, if in fact the nation were to be given "details and definitive timeframes" for the various areas identified by Cosatu, this would mean that the ERRP is truly a plan!

This would put paid to the characterisation by the TMF that the ERRP is merely a vision and the description by Mgojo, on behalf of the Minerals Council, that it is only "words and vague intentions". 

A worker might fairly ask the question: In the absence of details and definitive timeframes in the SONA – which is arguably what did occur – will Cosatu finally agree that the ERRP is not a plan?

And in that case, what steps will Cosatu take to help ensure that there is the required plan, inspired by the absolute imperative for our country to act with determination to alleviate and end the terrible scourge of poverty, unemployment and human degradation which afflict millions of our people? 

The author is a former member of the national executive committees of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the ANC and a former civil servant.

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