OPINION: The plan to deliver the dream of shared prosperity
JOHANNESBURG - Yesterday President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium South Africa (Sidssa).
Branded under the title, "Investing in infrastructure for shared prosperity: now, next, and beyond", this new baby is born in the eye of the Covid-19 storm.
A perfect birth finally as Ramaphosa says this should deliver the dream of shared prosperity.
However, this birth comes against a backdrop of a strike waged by the 600 000 strong taxi owners and drivers against the proposed R 1.3 billion Covid Relief fund the Minister of Transport proposed for the taxi industry.
They argue that it is too little and they are not subsidised like all other transport formations such as Gautrain, metrorail and buses.
By way of welcoming this initiative, let us test our ambition against a quarter century memory lane.
By pulling travel survey of 2013 mounted by Statstics SA perhaps to contextualise what could bring a fourth feature to “now, next, and beyond” is what we can refer to as “past” in order to bring to bear the immediacy of the pain endured for decades in the new context of Covid-19.
To remind those with short memories not only does the South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 recognises that the country needs large investments to propel economic activity and that these investments need to be made in a structured and co-ordinated manner, but the 1996 White Paper on the National Transport Policy aimed to ensure that the South African transportation system is adequate to meet the basic accessibility needs (to work, health care, schools, shops) in many developing rural and urban areas.
An important pain that the then White Paper identified was to provide affordable public transport, wherein commuters spend less than about 10 percent of disposable income on transport. According to StatsSA income and expenditure survey, the expenditure on transport was at 17.1 percent which is far higher than the 10 percent target of the White Paper.
In fact expenditure on transport had grown in real terms by a whooping 21.8 percent in the five years to 2011.
According to StatsSA taxis transport 4.3 million workers and 2.6 million students on a daily basis. They transport at least 60 percent on average of the first three lowest income quintiles and account for 51 percent of all travel. So when the taxi industry goes on strike, 51 percent of South African travellers suffer. Combined with the bat and pangolin this important sector of our lives can paralyse the economy.
In 2014, Act no, 23 of 2014 - Infrastructure Development Act was enacted.
Accompanying its implementation was the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC), which later located at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
The aim of lifting the PICC campaign then was “to promote infrastructure development initiative across the country, whilst showcasing the tangible benefits in terms of job creation and main streaming access to social services.”
In his State of the Nation Address in 2018, Ramaphosa on the matter of infrastructure, said, “Investment is key to our efforts to grow the economy, create jobs, empower small business and provide services to our people.”
In the ensuing six years since the Infrastructure Act was promulgated and the 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects were announced, but the facts do not support the ambition.
Real gross fixed capital formation fell to 60 percent compared to what it was prior to 2012.
It took the bat and the pangolin to lift the lid on the ambition, alas to discover that these were no more than just words.
The journey towards infrastructure since the end of 2010 and its associated programmes has revealed major weaknesses of the state as a learning organism or the theory of change.
We have lamented how badly we have not emulated 2010.
This is despite convening slogans such as Operation Phakisa and the Oceans Economy.
The latter if on paper it is to be believed has an incredible potential for lifting skills, creating jobs and securing South Africa’s future development and food security.
Where the oceans economy fits in the current eight themes is rather in invisible ink.
The themes of the district development model, agriculture, digital infrastructure, public works, transport infrastructure, water and human settlements, funding models and energy infrastructure which omit the then much punted theme of Oceans economy/Blue economy in its own right and how we shifted from PICC and IDC to Sidssa rather reveal our hot-cold flushes towards the essence of theory and practice of development planning and the material contribution theory of change brings to driving and understanding seismic societal changes.
In this skeletal basket of the forgotten in favour of the new are the Reconstruction and Development Programme, Gear, Asgisa, New Growth Path, National Development Plan, Nine Point Plan, Fourteen Point Plan, the New Dawn, Khaoleza and variants to our many slogans we have used to try to understand and resolve our teething development problems.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @Palilj01