Dear Government

2015-06-16 12:19

You have achieved a number of successes over the past 21 years (peaceful transition, improving people’s lives, economic growth, creating a peaceful environment), but you have me worried about an increasing number of issues. I am worried about high unemployment and low economic growth. I am worried about poor education and health outcomes (although you have done very well at fighting the AIDS epidemic). I am worried about Eskom and loadshedding and I am worried about corruption. We all make mistakes and sometimes we take wrong turns, but that can be fine as long as we recognise our failings and address them. What worries me most is that so often, you do not admit that issues are serious and increasingly you seem to try and hide these failings from us. I feel it is time for us South Africans to start speaking out, whether we are in government, in business, in opposition or just a normal citizen. We love this country and we want the best for our future. On this Youth Day, I really hope that you will listen to us, because if you do not, we will have to start looking at alternatives, including the EFF and the DA.

A concern that has been building over recent years is the sweeping of issues under the carpet. Maybe you are not doing this on purpose, maybe you feel that it is necessary to avoid distraction from your bigger plans or maybe I have the wrong end of the stick, but it is my perception that important issues are not being addressed adequately in the open. Examples are Guptagate, Marikana, Eskom and Nkandla. Sure, investigations are done, but the release of reports is often delayed and conclusions are often disputed, not just by the opposition, but by independent commentators. I am very worried that the happenings surrounding the court order to keep Omar El-Bashir in the country and to arrest him will similarly be investigated, but will result in delays and unsatisfactory conclusions. However, when it comes to this issue as well as the allegations surrounding bribery during the bidding for the 2010 World Cup, you are going to have to deal with forces outside of SA that may not be as easily satisfied with the outcomes. Maybe the time has come for you to launch much more transparent investigations and for you to accept the outcome and take the necessary steps. That really would be good for our country as a whole.

Eskom and the regular loadshedding that we have to deal with is another immediate concern that you really should sort out for us as soon as possible. I know that you do not like the idea of getting the private sector too intimately involved because this feels too much like nationalisation. However, maybe it is time for you to admit that Eskom needs help. The company has lost too many skilled people, the maintenance programme has fallen too far behind and the building of new generation capacity has become too fraught with difficulty. You did such a great job by allowing Telkom to bring in a private partner to build a mobile network in SA. Vodacom has been such a huge success, it has made so much money for you and Telkom and it has resulted in SA having a top mobile network, which benefits us all. You really should consider doing something similar with Eskom. You can retain the bulk of electricity production within Eskom, but allow a private sector joint venture to deal with new generation (especially renewable energy) and to help with maintenance (at least initially). Sure, you will lose some of the assets (and future assets) that Eskom would have owned, but if the right private sector partner is chosen, it could mean a great deal of upside for you, not just from profits within Eskom, but from a faster growing economy and a happier electorate. I am worried that the Eskom problems can be very damaging for you in upcoming elections.

Corruption is an issue in every government and institution, unless the right steps are taken to counter it. Whenever there are large amounts of money and power involved, corruption is a risk. Corruption is greater when there is a monopoly of power, when there are a great number of grey areas and where punishment is not aggressively meted out. You have a very strong majority in SA because of your great credentials and delivery to your constituency. Although you must be commended for this, you must also realise the risks that it creates for corruption to emerge. Because you have such a monopoly of power, it is important that you have very transparent processes and severe punishment for people that engage in corrupt activities. From my point of view and from the point of view of many commentators, processes are not sufficiently transparent currently and when things go wrong, it often appears as if stalling tactics, transference and interference is employed. If you do not address this, you may find that the extent of your monopoly reduces, which may not be a bad thing.

I know you have some great ideas to grow our economy and employment levels going forward, much of which is contained within the National Development Plan (NDP). My problem is that you are taking too long to start implementing this plan. I know you are a broad church and that you don’t always agree with each other within the ruling party and government, but we are not going to see successes on this front if we do not start. Low global commodity prices are putting pressure on our economy and our debt levels and we need to do something to counter this sooner rather than later. You really should start posting some successes here before the municipal elections next year and certainly before the general elections in 2019 or risk losing support.

Another area of concern that could really limit our ability to be competitive globally in the long term is the poor education outcomes that we achieve compared to the rest of the world. Especially today on Youth Day, this is an issue that needs to be considered. I know you spend a lot of money on education and we really appreciate this. The problem is that you are not getting the bang for your buck that you should. This is a complex issue, but I think that you could get much better outcomes if you raised the standards within schools and do more to support principals. Pupils should really not be satisfied to achieve marks of 30% and 40%, they should aim for excellence. You, dear Government, should not be satisfied with such low standards if you are serious about our future. If you lifted your expectations, you may be surprised at how well pupils do. Do not underestimate them. You should also expect more from principals and teachers.

There is so much that is great about this country. We enjoy a level of freedom that many countries envy and that we did not know 25 years ago. We strive for equality, at least of opportunity, although much more needs to be done. We have wonderful diversity of people that helps us to find unique solutions and makes this an exciting and interesting place to live. We have so much natural beauty. We have an abundance of land and natural resources that if properly utilised, can make us a leading country. We have made some great contributions to the world in the past and we are in a strong position to continue doing so. We are a land of opportunity and we need to grow our skills base so that more people can benefit from it. We have one of the strongest business infrastructures in the world and companies and investors recognise this. Political discourse is vibrant and healthy in this country and we must make sure that we continue to allow people to have their say, even if we disagree. We have a young and growing population and on this Youth Day we have to think about ways to improve their education and levels of employment. And finally, we suffer from inefficiency. It may be strange, but this is really an asset for us, because we can do so much better without having to spend more money. However, it is only an asset if we actively become more efficient (otherwise, we are wasting money). All we need is the right political will, dear Government.

I am confident that you want this country to be successful and to make it a better place for all who live in it. Please be willing to admit your failings, because that is the only way that you can find solutions. If there are bad apples amongst your ranks, please speak out and do what you can to get them on the right track or remove them. Please do more to police yourself, because as you know with more power, there is more risk of corruption. I know it may be uncomfortable for processes to be too transparent and open with strict rules, but in the end this will protect you as well as us.

In conclusion dear Government, our fate is in your hands at the moment. You are the ones in control, it is you that can lead us to a greater future, but it is also you that can make the mistakes that could lead us in the wrong direction. For the sake of us all, I ask you on this Youth Day to look inward, to admit failings and to take the right steps to correct them.

What do you think of my letter to Government? Do you think I am balanced in my approach? Have I touched on the right issues? Do you think that Government will listen to those of us that speak out? Do you think that the electorate is listening? I would love to hear your feedback. #SpeakingOutSA

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting

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