Government keeps shooting itself in the foot

 ·15 Apr 2024

Busiswe Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), says the recent withdrawal of the nation’s new visa regulations indicates the government’s lack of consideration of public consultations when setting policy.

From visa rules to major policies like National Health Insurance (NHI), it seems some in government don’t care about actual input from the public.

This invariably leads to delays, legal challenges and money issues down the line – leading to policy stasis and poor execution.

Own goal

The latest example of this own-goal behaviour was seen with South Africa’s new visa regulations.

The new visa regulations replace the highly-contested critical skills list for foreign employees working in South Africa with a new points-based system.

When gazetted earlier in April, the regulations were well received, with business groups saying it would lessen the administrative burden that international companies face when getting skilled foreigners into the country for their local operations.

However, Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi withdrew the gazette on Friday (12 April) after the department faced backlash for publishing the regulations a day before the closing date for public comments (29 March).

Mavuso said that the regulations’ withdrawal was an illustration of how little public comments matter to many parts of the government.

“This (the withdrawal) might seem like merely an administrative error, but I think it reveals how little attention policymakers pay to public comment,” said Mavuso.

“Clearly, from the minister down, the public commentary simply did not feature in the minds of those in the department.”

Although the BLSA welcomed the new visa changes, she said that poorly conceived legislation and regulations often enter South Africa’s lawbooks without public consultation.

A case in point is the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which has faced opposition from businesses, insurers, medical professionals and even parliament’s own legal team.

“This bill is simply unimplementable – there is no way it can be funded. It risks doing serious damage to the private healthcare sector and triggering an exodus of staff from the medical system,” said Mavuso.

“Business put considerable work into tabling alternatives that are viable and would support improvements in access to healthcare, requiring a minimal amendment to the draft bill.”

“The Covid period showed how effectively government and business can work together to provide access to healthcare. Yet our proposals were roundly ignored, and Parliament forged ahead with putting the totally unworkable legislation on the books.”

If President Cyril Ramaphosa signs the bill into law, it will be embroiled in a litigation battle.

South Africa’s constitutional framework means that consultations play a key role in the creation of the nation’s laws. The Constitutional Court has ruled against legislation in the past for failing to comply with constitutional obligations.

“Public consultation cannot just be a matter of procedure, but must include proper consideration of the input received, as spelt out in the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act,” said Mavuso.

“It is hard to believe that there has been proper consideration when draft legislation is finalised without change after a comment period.”

“This is not just a cost to those of us who spend time and money on providing comment, but also to the government. When laws are ambiguous or unconstitutional, they will inevitably end up being challenged in court, requiring the government to pay for legal processes.”

Case in point

Another case in point for this disregard for public input was demonstrated last week when the e-tolling system in Gauteng shut down—more than a decade after it launched despite public backlash.

The e-tolling system was forced on the residents of Gauteng after a lack of public consultation and continued to accrue debt and higher collection costs for the government over the next ten or so years of public revolt.

On 12 April 2024, the system was officially shut down – leaving the province and the national government with a hefty debt bill.

Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said at the system shutdown that the end of e-tolls was proof that the government does listen to the public.

However, she neglected to note that this came only after ten years of threats, coercion and the constant loss of voter support for the implementing party (the ANC) in elections.

Had the government listened sooner—like at the point where the public made it clear that they would not pay and support the system—the mess would not have incurred the billion in debt that now has to be paid.

Read: South Africans love Home Affairs for its effectiveness, says Motsoaledi

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