Proper communication, governance from the government key to economic recovery
By Bheki Mfeka
JOHANNESBURG – The Covid-19 pandemic months have put the government reputation into extreme negative exposure and immense pressure. A myriad of challenges continues to overwhelm leadership especially in the public sector.
When you read stories on PPEs corruption; Denel cannot pay its workers; and as government opens the economy level 2, Eskom introduces load shedding due to power plants units’ breakdown. Sasol makes R91.3 billion loss. Trust in government is at all-time historical low.
The government communication machinery is in full reaction mode dealing with corruption scandals and governance lapses as they come. It is important for government to revamp its strategic communication and governance in general.
This is important for a capable and developmental state, which is the ideological base of the governing party, the ANC since 2007’s 52nd Polokwane Conference.
The key question is, do we as citizens have the luxury to wait until every election to fix our problems? Elections themselves do not fix problems, they only help majority choose the party and leaders who have ideals and principles we share for our future.
Citizens cannot wait and observe perpetual decline in governance, they need actionable communication from government so they can play a role in fixing these institutions.
Citizens own government, and public entities and they delegate their management to administrations through their elected officials, and it is important all citizens participate in fixing what is broken. With a plethora of technological developments brought by the fourth industrial revolution, this should be much more enabled.
One thing about democracy which eludes most commentators embedded in subjective politics, is that they would want us to wait until a political party of their choice or a party that is ‘better’ takes over.
That kind of attitude postpones any possibility of reconstructing our society. There will never be the right time or right party in power loved by every single citizen. So, the call by citizens for accountability and proper governance is a generic call that every government must strictly respond to. In actual fact, failure to enforce proper governance is in itself treasonous for the state for any government.
No government should claim legitimacy if it is not willing to fix governance.
The key is that citizens must work together with government to deal with governance challenges facing the society. The initiatives and processes by businesses, labour, and government culminating in the Nedlac consensus is critical and must be commended. But the consensus is not sufficient if there is no actionable communication to help execute the recovery plans.
Government needs to reinforce proactive communication on the governance turnaround processes and socio-economic recovery efforts. It should lead discussions on key efforts to root out corruption and exposing those who are corrupt not matter which political leaning they represent. Government should not be always on the defensive mode but should lead charge in depoliticizing corruption and correctly communicate these efforts.
Key elements to fixing governance and communication is understanding of government interventions in the society holistically. The government is an inter-linked system and requires systems thinking approach to communication.
If the government thinks, acts, and communicate in silos, the system is bound to collapse at least in perceptions of ineptitude. We cannot understand challenges at South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) as separate form challenges at Eskom, Department of Water and Sanitation, and local government as an example.
Government should embrace modalities for governance overhaul working with all sectors of our society. Key aspect to this overhaul is the separation of party and the state, building a strong administrative and professionally capable state.
The state should develop Codes of Good Corporate Governance for the state and its institutions akin to those of King Codes developed by the private sector. These should bite hard to those who choose to ignore ethics this includes political and administrative leadership throughout government.
Communicating ruthlessly about governance is the most strategic approach you could have as government to show there remains depth and ability to correct institutional failures, to restructure the economy, and to appoint the right leadership.
This is important because if you are a leader of society and have political power, you must give confidence to citizens that you remain trustworthy to correct the wrongs in the society.
Questions that will be communicated strategically by government would include the “why” of lapses in state-owned entities (SOEs) and immediate actions that need to be proactively executed. For instance, why Denel cannot pay salaries? Is this unique to Denel? Is there causality with corruption and governance failure?
These questions cannot wait for commissions of enquiry, and task teams, government communicators should have the strategic approach to such.
Similarly, on the issue of Eskom, constant communication on the turnaround strategy, and causes of lapses in the maintenance of power stations should be readily communicated. We should be made aware of the progress and challenges, and how and when these will be fixed.
Numerous initiatives are set up by government and the presidency to deal with the challenges facing our country, but it would seem we are not constantly and proactively updated on the progress, strategically and constantly connecting the dots of our economic recovery and restructuring. It looks like we are told something will be done and no execution happens thereafter. This breeds perceptions and lots of suspicion about the incompetency of government to fix our problems.
We do hope South Africans, in spite of political differences and aspirations, will realize that there is a country called South Africa that must succeed to make things work out for our children and all generations
Dr Bheki Mfeka, is the Economic Advisor and Strategist at SE Advisory; and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. | Twitter: @bhekimfeka | Website: www.seadvisory.co.za | Email: [email protected]