South Africa has been waiting 13 years for government ‘urgency’ – but still nothing gets done

Government needs to find a way to deal with policies that are ‘urgent’ and important for the future of South Africa, says Business Leadership South Africa chief executive Busi Mavuso.

Writing in an open letter on Monday (7 September), Mavuso said that at the start of the Covid-19 crisis the state acted fast, pulled together experts and worked hard to analyse the best options and then implement them to slow the spread of the disease.

“The problem is that in other areas, ‘urgent’ seems to mean little,” she said. “We sit now with load shedding because we have been slow in delivering energy policies and procurement that we’ve known we needed long ago.”

Mavuso said it is almost a year since the government published a request for information on “emergency” power supply options.  “At least a bidding process has begun to procure 2,000MW of new production, but it is going to close in late November with a preferred bidder likely only before Christmas,” she said.

“Suppliers then must achieve financial close and build projects, so realistically we will only see the first contribution to the grid around mid-2022. We could have done better.”

Mavuso said Eskom has been procuring around 200MW through its urgent short-term power purchase programme that was supposed to ensure additional electricity for the grid from December.

“That process has been delayed several times, in part by Covid-19, and we are now told it will result in new electricity for the grid only from end-February. Meanwhile, the country is being rocked by load shedding – just as the economy was attempting to get back on its knees after the worst economic shock in a decade.”

13 years and waiting

This attitude to urgency is not restricted to energy Mavuso said – pointing to the lack of urgency around the release of spectrum.

“We have been waiting for the auction of spectrum for increased broadband since 2007 when the policy directive was first issued. The lack of capacity of the cell phone companies is throttling the economy and forcing high data prices

“Yet last week we heard that the auction has been delayed yet again from the end of this month to March next year.”

Mavuso said that these delays are for a variety of reasons, but in all cases, the country seems to lack the “make it happen” attitude that it saw at the beginning of the Covid-19 battle.

“Of course, we didn’t get everything right in the policy steps then, but at least we understood and behaved with urgency. The benefits of those early measures are being felt now with the infection rate having peaked before expectations, enabling most of the economy to resume activity with the move to level two.

“Now, though, the lack of a demonstrable appreciation of urgency is jarring.”

Lack of urgency

In part, the lack of urgency arises from the independent roles that different parties must play given the complex regulatory processes in energy and spectrum allocations, said Mavuso.

“We want independent regulators because we believe it is in the public interest. But we should expect that those regulators will prioritise the public interest, thereby delivering policy outcomes fast. They should be enabled to do so from the political level with the right legislative support.”

She said that business generally comes from a “make it happen” culture in which urgency is often embraced to take advantage of opportunities and deliver what clients need.

“The voluntary effort put into Business For South Africa and initiatives like the Solidarity Fund demonstrate this. We have the people with both the technical skills to work on projects and an appreciation that the urgency of the situation implies there can be no excuses.

“We are ready and willing to engage with other social partners to deliver on urgent priorities.”

Read: The basic economics of spending R10 in South Africa – and the importance of supporting local

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South Africa has been waiting 13 years for government ‘urgency’ – but still nothing gets done