The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) is evidently not happy with the National Development Plan which Planning Minister Trevor Manuel unveiled in Parliament this week.
The plan has one chapter Positioning SA in the World, focusing on foreign policy and diplomacy.
One can imagine why our diplomats are grumpy about it; it says things like “South Africa lost a great deal of the moral authority – as a power resource – that the country enjoyed… immediately after the 1994 election”.
Perhaps more annoying to our diplomats is that it proposes that they be sent back to training school to improve their skills, especially in economic diplomacy and international negotiations.
Worse, it meddles with their payslips, recommending that the government undertake a “thorough audit “ of the costs of maintaining its staff abroad.
“The commission believes that it is unacceptable for South Africa’s diplomats to earn the same salaries as their counterparts from the wealthiest countries in the world.”
The commission believes our diplomats are overpaid and under-skilled, hence their dislike of the report.
So will civil servants in other departments since the commission lamented the lack of bureaucratic skills.
It is probably a good thing for SA that the civil service as a whole has received a sharp prod.
God knows it needs one, and it is the patriotic duty of planning commissions, surely, to give it one.
On a less personal level, though, the diplomatic professionals also feel that the report is too narrowly focused on economic diplomacy and not enough on other aspects of diplomacy, including political, scientific.
Dirco sent the commission detailed and thoroughly researched recommended changes after it saw the first draft of the report.
It is unhappy that too few were incorporated and that the report is still too narrowly focused on economic diplomacy.
For example, it says: “The most significant achievement in South Africa’s post-1994 international relations has been our accession to the Group of Twenty (G20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.”
Perhaps it is no coincidence that it was Manuel, then finance minister, who was first invited to join his counterparts in the G20.
For the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and her advisers, though, there is surely no doubt that SA joining the Brics group of big emerging nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) last year was a much more significant event.
“If you say you are drafting a vision for what South Africa should look like in 2030, you have to take into account the shift in global power to the East, the changing of the global tide.
“We have to ensure we are lifted by the new tide or we will get dashed on the rocks,” said a senior diplomat.
What should we think?
Perhaps that the report is tantalising in what it hints at, but does not quite follow through.
Was that perhaps the result of trying to adapt the draft to Dirco’s objections?
Or was it just that some of the ideas have not been sufficiently thought through?
The commission, remarks provocatively, for instance, that SA’s role in the elite Group of 7 rich countries is steadily diminishing, that it is “losing an important voice in decisive world affairs”, that its foreign relations are “becoming increasingly ineffective and the country is sliding down the scale of global competitive and overall moral standing”.
Those are large statements not matched by recommendations of the same size.
The implication of all that put together seems to be a sweeping recommendation along the lines of: “We should stop siding with or appeasing oppressive dictators and throw in our lot much more with democratic free marketeers we can do business with.”
Guess you couldn’t say it quite like that, though.