9 things government needs to change right now – or risk facing further decline

The South African government has spent the last decade dumbing down the population, instead of working towards “productive knowledge” – something that is desperately needed to boost economic growth and tackle many of the country’s social ills.

This is according to Johannes Wessels, director of entrepreneurial non-profit, The Enterprise Observatory of South Africa (EOSA), who says protests, the brain drain and investors pulling their money out of the country can all be chalked up to poor governance – particularly that seen under the Jacob Zuma administration.

The Zuma years were underpinned by cadre deployment in state departments and state companies, which led to the wide network of patronage that has been exposed in the past two years through the various state capture scandals and a quantifiable decline in economic activity.

By current president Cyril Ramaphosa’s own admission on the 2019 campaign trail, for the past 10 years South Africa has been caught in a downward spiral of corruption, with only the past year giving any hope of a turnaround.

According to Wessels, this “wasted decade” has seen a large portion of South Africa’s skilled workforce leave the country, exacerbated by restrictive BEE laws, poor services and security, and major inefficiencies in government.

Simply put, the country does not have the necessary skills for the economic growth it needs, and something needs to be done – urgently – to undo this.

Poor governance

“The current low growth high unemployment situation is too often blamed on the Gupta-isation of government spending,” Wessles said. “Hurtful as these body punches were, the head blows of inefficient economic policies and inefficient and counter-effective administration have had a worse effect.”

As an example, Wessels pointed to inefficiencies in logistics systems, such as with South Africa’s ports, which have some of the slowest turnaround times and the highest duties – effectively pushing export firms to head elsewhere.

To fight inefficiencies like this, he said leadership in government needs to wake up to truth that the time for talk and summits and workshops has long passed, and that getting rid of “anti-growth” policies will benefit the poor far more than factionalism, populism and “schizophrenic ideology” in politics.

To accomplish this, Wessels highlighted nine interventions that need to be done – before the 2019 elections:

  1. The inefficiency of the police service – considered as one of the 20 most inefficient in the world and the cost of crime for business as the fifth highest – has to be tackled;
  2. The high costs of state monopolies should be addressed by creating competition. That implies breaking up and privatising the majority of SOE components.
  3. Declare a moratorium on BEE;
  4. Revamp the top four tiers of all municipal staffing levels (including the police service) by ensuring incumbents meet the requirements of these positions and stop the practice of making mice managers of cheese factories rather than competent people;
  5. Free all firms with an annual taxable income below R50 million from the constraints of collective bargaining;
  6. Enter into port management arrangements with at least four consortia to ensure more efficient ship turnaround times as well as immediately slashing tariffs to at least the international average whilst committing to privatising the ports by not later than 2023;
  7. Announce the introduction of a voucher system for parents to choose schools for their children in at least two pilot provinces, preferably Gauteng and the Western Cape as from January 2020;
  8. Transform the SETA system by giving employers flexibility to choose from the total range of accredited training courses;
  9. Cut national Cabinet to not more than 20 ministers.

Failing to tackle the problem of an ineffective government through the above means that no matter who ends up on the ANC’s provincial lists for the 2019 elections, it will ensure another five years of waste.

“The ranks of the Patrick Soon-Shiongs and Elon Musks (will be expanded) and countries like Mauritius and Botswana (will be enabled) to progress while the vision of the National Development Plan will fade into pure fiction,” Wessels said.


Read: What South Africa can do to improve its economic standing in 2019

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9 things government needs to change right now – or risk facing further decline