Christmas wish list for the SA Government

2014-12-24 08:09

Dear SA Government, it is that time of the year again. I have tried my best to be good during this past year and I hope that you will fill my Christmas stocking with something special. You are in the best position to grant my wishes and add to my reasons for loving this country. Here is a Christmas wish list that you can choose from.

Education: I am worried about the poor maths and science results that we produce in SA. The recent annual national assessment (ANA) mark of 10.8% for grade 9 Maths was of particular concern. This will be a major hurdle in growing a successful economy and employing more people going forward. Please raise the standards required to pass exams in SA and empower principals to run schools more effectively. Also please convince your friends in the unions that it is not acceptable for teachers to be absent so much and to work reduced school days – principals must be in a position to sanction lazy teachers. Finally, when speaking to us about education, please tell us that we should do better and don’t be scared to admit that there are things that are not going well.

Unemployment: Our unemployment rate is very high at 25% on the narrow definition (only including those people actively looking for work in the definition) and this has languished in the 24%-26% over the past 5 years. Can you please do something about this, especially for young people? Please make it easier for companies to employ people by reducing red tape and regulations and allow companies more freedom to dismiss underperforming workers. Please consider bringing in a youth subsidy or a form of employment where young people can be employed more cheaply (like apprenticeships or internships) so that these people can earn an income, learn more skills and become more productive. I know that your friends in the unions will not be happy with this, but in the long-term, they will also benefit from higher employment as it will help to swell their numbers. Please encourage more vocational training in our country so that the skill levels of our people can be increased and they can be more valuable to companies.

Turning plans into action: You have been very good over the past decades in coming up with plans to deal with the issues we are facing in SA and you have successfully delivered on many of the plans. However, in some cases, you have been less successful in turning plans into action. There is so much consultation and discussion, but the wheels turn so slowly that many projects are delayed. Some of your successes include your HIV/AIDS programme, your housing programme, the smart ID programme, the bus rapid transit system, RSA Retail Bonds, etc. The programme that appears to be languishing most is the National Development Plan (NDP), which was launched in August 2012, but has been slow in delivering on especially its infrastructure spending targets. Other delayed projects include national health insurance (NHI), Eskom’s power generation infrastructure, the renewable energy programme and land redistribution. Would you please accelerate the implementation of your projects and avoid mistakes in implementation. We need these projects to create jobs, ensure energy security and provide delivery to the people of the country.

Professional management: I know that in order to facilitate transformation in SA, it was important to replace the senior management in the public sector and State Owned Enterprises (SOE) with people that reflect the future of SA more than the past. However, there are so many examples of people that were employed because of their loyalty to the ruling party, often at the expense of experience and competence. I am not saying that as government, you do not have the right and the privilege to employ loyalists, but can you please do more work at choosing people that have the tools to turn around underperforming SOEs and can ensure that well-run SOEs remain so? Please also do more to bring in independent professionals and technocrats that can help to deliver the vision that you have for the public sector and SOEs.

Electricity: It is not nice to have blackouts during this festive season and I am very worried that this could get worse next year, when industries are operating at full force again and the low oil price encourages economic growth. I know you are doing what you can to deal with the current problem, but I would like to see more than band aid solutions. Would you please help Eskom to accelerate is independent power producer (IPP) programme as this has moved very slowly since announced and is facing severe bottlenecks. Would you also please consider allowing private sector competition to Eskom, especially in urban areas? Allowing municipalities to buy from companies other than Eskom, could encourage a rapid increase in generation in SA, leading to electricity security going forward.

Skills: We have a shortage in skills in SA and although this is very positive for people possessing scarce skills, it limits the ability of the country to grow and to increase employment. Would you please make it easier for SA companies to bring skilled individuals into the country from elsewhere. These people should be welcomed and made to feel at home as they will not take jobs away from locals, but will help to grow the economy, create jobs and accelerate the training of locals.

HIV/AIDS: Thank you very much for the great work you have done in stemming the AIDS epidemic. Your successful antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme has increased the number of patients on ART to 2.7m and raised life expectancy in SA from 54 years in 2005 to more than 61 years. Please do not rest on your laurels here and continue the good work. Please do more to help reduce the stigma surrounding AIDS so that people will get tested and treated, please continue to look for cheaper and more efficient ART like the monthly injection and please continue funding research into vaccines.

Crime: Thank you for the work that you have done to reduce levels of crime in SA from the very high levels of the past. We have seen a decline in total crimes, murder, robbery assault and theft. In particular, the murder rate per 100 000 reduced from 64.5 in 1995 to 32 in 2014. However, as you must agree, crime remains a problem in SA and much more needs to be done. Our murder rate positions us at number 208 out of 218 countries and ahead of countries like Colombia, the DRC, Brazil, Rwanda, Mexico and Nigeria. Please do more to increase the effectiveness of ground level policing and please help the police and justice system to better turn arrests into convictions, while at the same time keeping an eye on rehabilitation rather than simply filling up overcrowded prisons.

That’s my list, thank you for reading it. Any one of those gifts in my stocking would make me really happy!

To my readers, are there any wishes you would like to add to this list? Are there any of my wishes that you do not agree with? Please let me know what you think.

In the mean time, enjoy the Festive Season and keep your talk straight!

Marius Strydom is the owner of MLAX Consulting

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