Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

OPINION: The history of planning in SA

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Oct 20, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - At times like this, Cyrus the Great of Persia would whisper his famous diversity in counsel and unity in command to President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

He would remind us that the slogans we adopted as development plans since the dawn of democracy cannot develop a country. 

I have focused on the consequences of failure to plan in South Africa and this week I want to elaborate on the history and attempts at planning in in the past 25 years.

It is worth remembering that apartheid had at its centre, a component in the state, called the Central Economic Advisory Services (CEAS).  

But when liberation came, the entity floated around seeking a new home. The National Treasury and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) had no space for it.  

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has however recommended the reignition of the entityy.

Mboweni is correct that this facility is sorely needed. Since 1994, we have paid scant attention to this essential infrastructure and we are paying the price.

Apartheid had - in addition to the likes of the SA Reserve Bank (Sarb), Treasury, state expenditure and ministry of trade and industry - a network of scientific research outfits that provided necessary developmental input in the machinery of the state.  

It had institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Geological Surveys, Agricultural Research Council and MINTEK.

How much impact CEAS would have made can only be left to imagination.

When CEAS was looking for a home, the Macro Economic Reform Group (MERG) Prof Bennie Fanaroff’s RDP Office were looking for model based planning .

MERG had the idea that in the first phase of reforms, there would be public investment to transform the state between 1994 and 1999 and to sustain growth between 1999 and 2004.

The RDP embarked on a massive training programmes for civil servants in the art and science of planning. It even enlisted a German development cooperation to achieve this objective.  The focus was on data.

Both these endeavors have been lost.  The centre of government during former president Thabo Mbeki’s era  would be Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (PCAS).
Frustrated by how government failed to plan, Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma would tell a story about how they would hunt down frogs and span them.
Zuma said the up and down jumping of the frogs and failing to pull together was the character of government.  In my earlier years I also hunted locusts. Like frogs, locusts would randomly jump and attempt to fly but would not pull together.

I  had a solution to this - cutting the hind legs of the locusts worked.  They could not fly and they exerted their energy to pull forward together.  Too many locusts in the state have retained hind legs and cannot pull.  Modelling ideas into the future and contextualising their realisation is to the state what cutting the hind legs of locusts is.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.


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