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Time to talk integrity: Accountability Now

Accountability Now director Paul Hoffman considers what President Jacob Zuma should say in his State of the Nation address on February 11

28 January 2016 -The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is one of the highlights of the annual political calendar. The President, acting as Head of the National Executive, assembles parliamentarians, provincial premiers and members of the judiciary to spell out to them, and to the nation, the plans of his government for the year ahead.

Recent developments concerning the economy and our national finances will render the SONA of 2016 one of the most important since the dawn of the new order in 1994. The drought, the state of the international economy and the persistence of poverty, inequality and un-or-under-employment in SA are all factors which need urgent attention if SA is to survive as a functioning constitutional democracy under the rule of law.

In his SONA of February 2015 the President said: “Our economy needs a major push forward. We would like to share with you our nine point plan to ignite growth and create jobs.

These are:

  1. Resolving the energy challenge.
  2. Revitalizing agriculture and the agro-processing value chain.
  3. Advancing beneficiation or adding value to our mineral wealth.
  4. More effective implementation of a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan.
  5. Encouraging private sector investment.
  6. Moderating workplace conflict.
  7. Unlocking the potential of SMMEs, cooperatives, township and rural enterprises.
  8. State reform and boosting the role of state owned companies, ICT infrastructure or broadband roll out, water, sanitation and transport infrastructure as well as
  9. Operation Phakisa aimed at growing the ocean economy and other sectors.”

In the January 8th statement of the National Executive Committee of the ANC delivered by the President in Rustenburg, and with reference to local government, it was stated that:

“The ANC is championing the Back to Basics approach, which is based on five pillars:

  1. Putting people first;
  2. Ensuring delivery of basic services;
  3. Good governance;
  4. Sound financial management;
  5. Building strong institutions.

We call upon all members of our movement, wherever they are deployed, to intensify the Back to Basics programme and ensure that:

  • There is political stability and good governance at municipal level.
  • There is direct hands-on support for and monitoring of the work of municipalities.
  • There is meaningful participation of citizens in municipalities.
  • Qualified and experienced officials are appointed in municipalities.
  • Bottlenecks in the provision of housing, water and sanitation are removed.
  • There is a vigorous and targeted approach to fighting corruption and fraud.”

Translating plans into constructive action

It is critical that the plans and principles to which the President has referred are translated into positive and constructive action in governance, not only at local government level but in all spheres of government and in the state owned enterprises sector too.

Space precludes a detailed discussion of the challenges to progress that confront virtually every point made in the SONA last year and in the January 8th statement for 2016. It is even arguable that the problems are so plentiful that an economic CODESA should be urgently convened to thrash out a consensual way forward.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has adjusted its prognostications regarding the growth rate of the SA economy downwards to a mere 0,4% in the year ahead. This is disastrous news for work-seekers. The rand has plummeted to its weakest ever level. The drought in several provinces, the state of the world economy and the on-going energy supply issues in the country are combining to create a tsunami of economic misery that has to be addressed with all the skill and dedication that the public administration and the nation can muster.

The national spokesperson of the DA has challenged her counterpart in the ANC to a debate on the economy and jobs. The challenge has, unfortunately so, been refused on a basis that does not withstand proper scrutiny.

Numbers of unemployed swollen by 1.4 million

The statistics reveal that the sheer numbers of the unemployed have swollen by 1,4 million during the Zuma administrations with an estimated 774 more people joining the ranks of the unemployed daily. A total of 8,4 million people are currently unemployed, a truly frightening and potentially overwhelming number.

The DA suggests investment in integrated energy, transport and ICT infrastructure aimed at job creation. It would refocus education on imparting skills to work-seekers, “radically reform” the labour regime, provide direct incentives for job creation and promote entrepreneurial endeavour by making it easier to start a small business.

The Constitution, with its justiciable Bill of Rights, provides a good deal of inspiration to those seeking a “back to basics” approach to the “major push forward” which the SA economy still needs. Unerringly implementing the values and principles which ought to inform the conduct of the public administration would be a good start that would lead to the immediate abandonment of cadre deployment in the civil service. Public procurement that is fair, equitable, competitive, cost-effective and transparent would transform the conduct of SOEs and the public administration. Constitutionally compliant treatment of what the President calls “the energy challenge” would lead to the immediate abandonment of the nuclear build dream, which has become a less than cost-effective and uncompetitive nightmare.

Openness and responsiveness

Keeping the foundational values of accountability, openness and responsiveness at the forefront of economic decision-making would impact strongly on loss-making SOEs, in particular SAA and the Post Office.

A truly “back to basics” administration would keep the notions of “human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms” set out in section 1 of the Constitution at the forefront of policy-making as it grapples with the challenges of turning the ship of state away from junk status and even possible failure. Such an administration would take its obligations to “respect, protect, promote and fulfil” the rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights most seriously and would overhaul the basic education system urgently as a means of saving from unemployment the more than 700,000 students who drop out of school before even reaching matric level each year.

The lot of the poor and informally housed could be improved and many jobs could be created by the implementation of an innovative and affordable plan to make shacks a thing of the past. Putting people to work on building renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind based, that could supplement the Eskom grid in the short term may render the hugely expensive, and arguably unnecessary, nuclear build programme redundant. The revitalisation of agriculture has to take on board the fact that SA is a water scarce country. Tunnel farming along the lines practiced in the Middle East and Southern Europe may be indicated if food security is to be maintained.

Encouraging private sector investment

Encouraging private sector investment is a matter of fostering trust in the leadership and confidence in the future of the economy of SA. The December “three ministers of finance in one week” debacle did nothing to advance point five of the SONA plan for 2015. Long before the debacle, two thirds of those polled by Afrobarometer did not trust the President. That figure (66%) is up from 17% when he initially took office and distrust of the President has in all probability increased since the debacle and the denialism that accompanies it. When it comes to encouraging private sector investment, whether foreign or local, it would appear that the President is part of the problem, not part of its solution.

As for strong institutions and “a vigorous and targeted approach to fighting corruption and fraud”, some seriously potent medicine is required. Accountability Now has long advocated the creation of an Integrity Commission: independent, specialised, properly trained and funded, with personnel who enjoy security of tenure of office. The time for talking the anti-corruption talk has long passed. Whether the current administration has the necessary political will to promote an Integrity Commission we will all find out by the end of the SONA address.

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