The work of the National Planning Commission (NPC) has been both educational and extremely heartening.
Since launching the diagnostic document in June last year and the National Development Plan (NDP) in December, the 26 commissioners, including myself, have had the privilege of engaging with a great many South Africans who have deepened our insights into what makes us tick as a society.
Three messages stand out in particular: first, that South Africans across all sectors, races and social classes share a common understanding of what our major challenges are; second, the vast majority are passionately committed to common sense solutions; and third that as a country we are good at coming up with ideas and less good at implementing them.
The first step we need to take is to agree on what it is we want to achieve. The tens of thousands of responses we have had to the National Development Plan suggest we are getting closer to being able to agree that we want to strive for a united, just, enterprising and capable society by 2030.
The next step is to reach broad agreement on how we can achieve these goals. Our biggest challenge here is that a great many people express cynicism and disillusionment about our ability as a country to translate plans into action, to make lofty ideals a reality for the majority of South Africans.
These sentiments are reflected in the NDP, which states: “A plan is only as credible as its delivery mechanism is viable. A capable state is an essential precondition for SA’s development. In many countries plans fail either because they are not implemented or because implementation is uneven.
“There is a real risk that our plan could fail because the state is incapable of implementation.”
In the plan we state that markets cannot resolve all our challenges.
Many of our biggest require direct interventions by an effective government that delivers high quality public goods such as education, health services as well as economic and social infrastructure.
The commission gives due recognition to the many successes we have achieved over the past 18 years of democracy. We have excelled at providing a social security net for nearly 16 million South Africans and we have provided water and electricity to millions more.
But the plan also acknowledges that we have failed to do some of the more difficult things.
These include improving education, promoting employment and building houses close to jobs. “By default, we have had a distorted development effort. A more capable state, in partnership with communities, must build on the platform of social services and social security and contribute towards a more balanced approach by developing the capabilities of people.
The NDP sets out proposals that seek to address this, proposing a two-pronged approach: first, it suggests a paradigm shift away from a focus on delivering social protection and services to an approach that seeks to give people the capabilities, such as education and skills.
Second, the plan makes proposals on how we can remedy the uneven and often poor performance of the public service. These proposals range from reforming and professionalising the public service to introducing more effective measures to deal with corruption.
The commission recognises that the state cannot do everything.
Apart from a capable state, the NDP argues that there are two other prerequisites to success: active citizens and leadership at all levels of our society.
An active citizenry talks to every one of us becoming involved in building a more equal and prosperous society.
We also need leadership at all levels and in all structures of our society. But often our ability to participate and lead is constrained by our capacity to break out of the curse of the three “Is”: ignorance, ideology and inertia.
The questions we need to ask ourselves is whether we are hobbled by ignorance because we have failed to understand the world we operate in?
As active citizens are we reading enough, are we listening enough?
We also need to ask whether we are hidebound by ideology. Do we approach problems with entrenched views that prevent us from exploring alternative routes, seeing different perspectives? And finally, are we caught in a cycle of inertia? Have we thrown up our hands, abandoned our posts and settled into a life of apathy?
If we manage to break free of these limitations we will make tremendous strides. The commission believes that the NDP can be strengthened. That can only happen if all South Africans speak their minds. Let us know your thoughts.
SA needs a plan. It has to be a practical one, reflecting the needs of the people on the ground and implemented by the highest authority in the country. Starting today, the Daily News, in tandem with LeadSA and National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, invites you to become part of that plan. Write to us at [email protected], tell us what you need and we’ll make sure it gets to the minister.