Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

Self-inflicted shenanigans haunting SA

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jan 16, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The new year and a new decade have opened. But the national psyche of South Africans has become one of panic at the state of decay of the economy, which Business Unity South Africa (Busa) this week gave voice to.

They captured the schizophrenic reaction that the mention of ratings agencies commands on the national mood.

South Africans also become increasingly moody and anxious because of the threat of rating agency Moody’s downgrading South Africa’s rating to junk. They deservedly hold the Damocles sword over our heads for our self-inflicted shenanigans.

It is a schizophrenia that the past 10 years of state capture have sowed.

At the end of the meeting Busa implored the government to implement the recommendations contained in the August 2019 document titled “Economic Transformation Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness: Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa, in Toto”.

It turns out that this document was already in circulation in July 2018 and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had the guts to get it out of the freezer.

This act attracted a lot of criticism that he did not consult more widely before he issued the document.

The question begged is: Why the rush?

We now know that this plan which Busa and Mboweni want urgently implemented has been gathering dust for at least 18 months.

Even when it was shared, there was actually no meaningful political economy discussions on this paper, let alone any clear position regarding its status.

What came out was a lame expression that the government appreciates the document.

Perhaps this is what irks Busa from being merely moody into a flat panic.

South Africa is typified by mood swings, of spurts of energy surges and energy saps. At the bottom of this political and economic schizophrenia is the delusional malaise of thinking that we know what we are doing.

If we did know what we were doing we would not have accumulated a museum of 11 so called “plans” that fail dismally to hang together.

Of late there is talk of district planning punted as the new mantra.

However, this is not new.

We were there before, with urban and rural nodes, of which the much contested corruption allegations in Alexandria were part.

Very little is left for review, including on long-term planning which the Reconstruction and Development Programme and the three administrations were beginning to consolidate.

No doubt our hopes were elevated with the advent of the National Development Plan (NDP).

But all who want to receive money from the Treasury refer to this in the preamble and do everything else but the NDP.

That the NDP is a plan, however, has become nothing short of hallucination.

South Africa has no clue as to what the discipline of planning requires. It requires systems, instruments and competencies, and above all planning is about immersion in data.

All these are attributes over which we have scandalous aversion and zero competency. Arch lever files are not instruments for planning. Yet these tons of paper play a central role in government systems - pity the trees that contribute to this, not to mention how outdated the technology.

Planning is a complex political, social, economic, financial, spatial endeavour, the goal of which is to benefit people and the planet through delivery of prosperity.

Therefore, underestimating and trivialising it with simplicity constitutes a fatal error.

What has this rant to do with the hurriedly convened meeting of Busa with the government?

I doubt whether Busa read the document of Mboweni. If they did I cannot for the life of me understand why they would use the word “inclusive growth” in their demand for the recommendations to be implemented in full.

The document says it will deliver a million jobs in 10 years after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, a mere two months before the release of the said document announced that they will deliver 200000 jobs a year - implying 2 million jobs in 10 years.

Unfortunately, Busa and the government show a lack of appreciation of the fact that South Africa has 10 million people unemployed today, and if Mboweni’s recommendations are implemented in toto then in 10 years we shall have 15million people unemployed.

The question we have to ask ourselves, Busa and the government is this: Whose dividend is democracy? Perhaps it is for business and the political elite.

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 or @PaliLehohla

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