Tshediso Matona. Supplied
JOHANNESBURG - The month of September 2017 has been a significant milestone for South Africa, it being the fifth anniversary since the adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP).

I have previously argued that it behoves us, as a country, to reflect on the status of the NDP and on our collective performance in implementing it.

Recalling that the NDP is a plan not just for the government, but for society, for business, labour, and all social actors, the challenge to act, account, report and communicate falls on each role player with a part to play, as much as it is our collective challenge as a nation.

On the whole, the NDP is an opportunity to conceive alternatives to a status quo seemingly under the thrall of negativity; an opportunity to dialogue towards consensus and partnerships for a better future, and to forge the much needed leadership across all levels and sectors in society.

With the framework and platform provided by the NDP, it should be possible to build consensus among all role-players on the critical priorities for action in the journey towards our long-term goals of eradicating poverty, reducing unemployment and inequality.

It should be possible to forge social compacts with clear roles and responsibilities for the government, business, labour and civil society; and on this basis, it should be possible to make rapid progress and stay the course, mindful that it will still take a while to fully realise the vision and goals of the NDP.

Indeed, as I will indicate below, there are many pockets of achievement across sectors which show that these possibilities can be realised.

Collective and co-ordinated action by all social partners, and mobilising citizenry, is the overall implementation ethos of the NDP.

However, as I previously observed, key social partners required for implementing the NDP have not yet courageously and robustly engaged the challenge of forging a social compact in the spirit advocated by the NDP.

Promoting social compacting is a critical area in which the National Planning Commission can assist, in accordance with the commission’s mandate.

There are successful case studies that provide possible models of how we can incrementally build overarching social compact or compacts on the required strategies and measures to attain NDP goals.

Operation Phakisa

The recent breakthrough on the minimum wage at Nedlac is one such instance. The other is Operation Phakisa (the Sotho word for “hurry up”), launched in 2014 to fast-track implementation of the NDP, and modelled on the Malaysian Governments’ Big, Fast Results methodology.

This involves the government and all critical stakeholders coming together in a “delivery laboratory” to find solutions to problems that hinder progress in a sector.

Six Operation Phakisa delivery labs have thus far been conducted on: the oceans economy; scaling up the ideal clinic; leveraging information communication technology (ICT) in basic education; galvanising growth, investment and employment creation in mining; biodiversity; and agriculture, land reform and rural development.

As is obvious, these are critical sectors from the NDP perspective, and there are encouraging pockets of success from some of these initiatives.

The Oceans Economy

It is estimated that our oceans (a space greater than our land territory) has the potential to contribute up to R177billion to GDP by 2033, compared with R54bn in 2010, and to increase the number of jobs from 316000 to just more than one million. The areas of focus for which detailed plans are being implemented by government departments, state-owned and private companies, research agencies, etc are: marine transport and manufacturing; offshore oil and gas; aquaculture; marine protection services and ocean governance; small harbour development; and coastal and marine tourism.

The Oceans Phakisa has so far unlocked investments of up to R24bn, consisting of around R15bn by the government and R9bn by the private sector. A total of 6517 jobs have been created. This is quite remarkable in the relatively short life of this initiative.

The ideal clinic

The health Operation Phakisa to realise the ideal clinic is also making progress, albeit comparatively slower. The initiative is defined according to several standards at the core of which is efficient, effective and dignified treatment of patients.

It seeks to improve the quality of primary health care. Since its launch in 2014, a total of 1037 public clinics have achieved ideal status as at June 2017. This performance translates to 30% of the existing stock of 3477 facilities. The set target is that 2823 facilities should become ideal by March 2019.

ICT in basic education

Operation Phakisa in basic education seeks to leverage ICT for teaching and learning. Since its launch in October 2015, a total of 3455 schools have been connected to the internet and received devices under the Universal Services Access Obligation project and 54% of the existing 24000 schools had acquired connectivity through various technologies.

Archaic methods of teaching and learning are being rapidly replaced as teachers and learners move towards the 21st century, with a total of 31800 teachers receiving ICT training. The contribution of the private sector has been critical to the progress of this initiatives

The lessons

These initiatives, as well as the Operations Phakisa in mining and agriculture, demonstrate that solutions are found and progress is achieved when the government and stakeholders work together, listen to one another, trust one another; and when this takes place in stable and consistent structures, with necessary monitoring and accountability. Departments and state-owned entities participating in these initiatives are also learning what can be achieved when they collaborate among themselves and with the private sector in a sincere and transparent manner.

Another vital lesson is that when policy and rules are clear and predictable the private sector does come to the party.

Given that approximately 75% of the economy is in the private sector, we need the commitment of business and of labour, to work with the government in the concrete and practical manner that Operation Phakisa is pioneering to bring about the change envisioned in the NDP.

We need to move from mere words to action, holding each other to account, and being held collectively to account by citizens at large.

In Malaysia, the Big, Fast Results methodology has become widely institutionalised, and is now the way all of government works and how Malaysia does business, which is reflected in the high levels investment and growth the country is consistently achieving.

The NDP requires that we scale up the successes of the ongoing Operations Phakisa initiatives, which we must replicate in other sectors, and in this way lay the foundation for broader and firmer partnerships and social compacting.

The NDP is by no means a perfect plan. It is the product of a particular balance and historical conjuncture. It will improve with implementation, with experience and co-operation among sectors of society, and with dialogue and debate.

Given the multiple and complex developmental challenges our country faces, to have a comprehensive plan such as the NDP is in and of itself a significant achievement. To have a plan that enjoys legitimacy across the political and social spectrum is a strategic advantage, enabling the required partnerships and mobilisation of society to advance the plan.

In the next five years of the NDP, the focus must be on raising the level of both individual and collective action by the government and all role-players in implementing the NDP.

The socio-economic challenges that continue to prevail in our country, the ravages of poverty and unemployment that afflict millions demand that we perform better in implementing the NDP.

Tshediso Matona is the acting director-general, Department Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation and secretary for National Planning.