Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. Photo: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – I rate the Economic Growth Plan released by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni last week the perennial 30 percent pass mark. His plan was received with contradictory reactions, but all seem to agree that it fell far below par on process.  

Its advocates favour the maxim of the end justifies the means rather than the process. However, two critics, Asghar Adelzadeh of Applied Development Research Solutions (ADRS) and Sipho Maseko, Telkom chief executive, pointed out that Mboweni’s plan was not a growth plan. 

It was big on words and poor on facts. Adelzadeh and Maseko reveal the profound fault lines in our planning systems. 

South Africa cannot be a lifter out of this morass without any planning. Many would like us to believe that it is implementation that is problematic. However, you cannot implement what you have not planned.

Maseko and Adelzadeh point out the severe sector knowledge deficits in the Treasury document.  

The Treasury is not a planning department. Their role is to hold the macro-economic balances and plan that South African debt and inflation do not send us further down this economic rabbit hole. 

We should spend on the basis of our revenue streams they will argue.  Treasury officials are correct and competent on this. 

What Mboweni’s plan reveals is that the government – with the Department of Trade and Industry; Agriculture; Mining; Water and Energy and others, including the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation which is responsible for sectoral plans and integration – has run out of ideas, went awol and left Mboweni to his devises.

Mboweni is not a planner and, hence, the surprise at the Treasury document. Do we not have any competent people left to plan an economy the size and complexity of South Africa?

Madiba noted this severe deficiency relative to what the apartheid state possessed and asked us to build this capacity.

Policy co-ordination and advisory services became the initiative towards this during former president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure. This was dismantled during former president Jacob  Zuma’s time. We have thus not built the capacity for model-based planning.  

The Supply and Use Tables (SUTs), the Input-Output Tables (IOTs) and the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM) that the statistician-general produces periodically go to waste because the lame are leading the blind. 

The Growth Accounting Framework (GAF), which provides a what-if-scenario is not part of the planning arsenal. The meticulously constructed forward-looking suite of models for planning that draw from data on the SUT, IOT, SAM and GAF that Adelzadeh committed a life time to building and offered, seem to be too sophisticated for us. 

But for a sophisticated economy and complex society as South Africa, you need sophisticated tools. These  instruments break the knowledge asymmetries. They should liberate us from our navel-gazing plans, which number almost 10 in 25 years.

Maseko and Adelzadeh have at last lifted the lid on our severe knowledge asymmetries and deficits. Mboweni was instrumental to precipitate their discovery. I would paraphrase Professor Tinyiko Maluleke’s injunction in favour of the two: “It is about time we listened to Maseko and Adelzadeh.” Possibly we shall be jolted into action.  

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics SA. Contact him at www.pie.org.za and @PaliLehohla.

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