William Gumede | SA needs a new governance model post Covid-19

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A view of the Union Buildings PHOTO: Gallo images
A view of the Union Buildings PHOTO: Gallo images

William Gumede writes that, for the government to survive the Covid-19 pandemic, there needs to be new foundations laid. 

SA's governance model, the way the country is run, is broken.

Without a new governance model, the country will be unable to sustainably, quickly and peacefully overcome the Covid-19 health, social and economic crises - and is likely to plunge into protracted economic stagnation, breakdown of the social order and potentially violent unrest.

To save SA from such a frightening fate, a new governance model is urgently needed.

Here are 10 pillars that should be the foundations of a new post-Covid-19 governance model for SA.

10 pillars 

Evidence-based policy must be a key pillar of the management strategy model of the country. This will make government policy more logical, credible and palatable to wider constituencies. Over the past few years, government policy-making has often appeared to be based on ideology, wishful thinking or corruption. 

Merit must be principle of government operations. The talents of all South Africans, no matter their colour, ethnicity or political affiliation, must be used to rebuild the economy. Merit-based appointments to government positions and to structures that oversee Covid-19 economic restructuring are crucial. Crony, cadre and pork-barrel appointments to government structures have wrought destruction since 1994, undermining public service delivery, wasting scarce public funds and destroying the government's credibility. Government contracts must be awarded based on merit, fairness and value for money.

Common sense must drive government decisions, actions and policies. Many government policies, decisions and actions over the past years have made little rational sense. This definitely has to change.

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There has to be greater accountability from elected and public representatives. There must be consequences for wrongdoing, and people must be held accountable. The culture of impunity must come to an end. Accountability strengthens the credibility of government and, importantly, motivates citizens to willingly comply with government directives. If citizens perceive a lack of accountability among elected and public representatives, they will readily defy government injunctions.

There need to be partnerships between the public, the private sector, civil society and communities to reconstruct the post-Covid-19 economy. The private sector and civil society are not enemies of the government, as many ANC leaders may misguidedly believe. It is also a fallacy to think, as many ANC leaders do, that the state can go it alone to tackle Covid-19. The state simply lacks the capacity, resources and ideas to execute economic policies on its own. Partnerships not only bring goodwill, they bring skills, resources and wider buy-in for policies, decisions and delivery.

The capacity, resources and talents of the public sector, private sector and civil society will have to be combined to tackle Covid-19. To deal with the lack of public sector capacity, the private sector and civil society could each be assigned to deliver specific services, which the state is either incapable of doing or is doing ineffectively. In the health sector, for example, there must be a sharing of resources, based on a partnership between the public and private health sectors, in a public-private partnership model of delivery.

Similarly, as part of the partnership approach, civil society groups could help co-deliver public and basic services in communities – from tackling gangsterism, combating gender-based violence and fostering community-building programmes to keep crime down and supporting the vulnerable.

READ | Adam Habib: Bringing the country back from the brink

The government must govern honestly. Without honesty, there cannot be trust, the glue for effective partnerships, citizen compliance and willingness to behave in a public-spirited manner. This includes the government communicating honestly to citizens, beyond the traditional faceless press statements, doublespeak and gobbledygook, and is crucial to rallying citizens behind government initiatives.

Entrepreneurship has to be at the heart of post-Covid-19 economy reconstruction. Entrepreneurs create new industries, new jobs and new wealth. They increase the size of economies. They fuel economic growth. They inspire a virtual cycle of others trying their hand at starting new businesses, new developments and new initiatives too. In SA, entrepreneurship will have to be promoted across society – within the state, the private sector, civil society and communities.

Corruption has to be tackled with greater seriousness. No successful post-Covid-19 reconstruction is remotely possible without the government seen to be tackling corruption, especially that of politically connected, untouchable ANC cadres, political capitalists and tenderpreneurs, who get government tenders solely because of their connectedness to the ANC and government leadership. Corruption that is not dealt with destroys trust and the credibility of the government, and encourages corruption across society.

The rule of law is fundamental. It must apply to everyone equally. The rule of law cannot only be applied to ordinary citizens. The politically connected cannot be exempted from the law, as has been the case since the end of apartheid. Neither should there be untouchables who appear to be above the law, such as minibus taxi drivers and bosses, gangsters and building hijackers.

The poor, vulnerable and marginalised must always be cared for: without this, any post-Covid-19 reconstruction will be undermined, as their anger will explode into protests, violence and social disorder.

A new governance model is a crucial, basic necessity to mobilise all SA's resources, talent and ideas to sustainably, quickly and with the least social disruption tackle the multiple health, financial and social crises unleashed by Covid-19.

 - This is taken from the 'SAMA Insider' journal, the publication of the South African Medical Association, based on an edited extract from Prof William Gumede’s contribution to the academic review "Priority setting for interventions in pre-and post-pandemic management: The case of Covid-19", analysing the government's Covid-19 response.

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