Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Is Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic recovery plan truly inclusive?

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 20, 2020

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By Reneva Fourie

On October 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa presented a comprehensive framework to revive South Africa’s economy. Expectations regarding its content were considerable, given the exacerbating impact of the global recession and Covid-19 on our already high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Despite a sound, balanced package of interventions, which included fundamentals such as investments in infrastructure, local manufacturing, and renewables, as well as in large-scale job creation, the recovery plan still faced much criticism.

The criticism occurred even though the recovery plan, as outlined by President Ramaphosa, was the outcome of a participatory process that included consultations between government, the community, business and labour, particularly as facilitated by National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

The fact that many South Africans do not fully appreciate the value of what was presented by President Ramaphosa, casts doubt on the effectiveness of Nedlac as a consultation body. South Africans strongly embrace the sentiment “nothing for us, without us”, and the continued discontent around a fairly good economic recovery plan, makes one question whether the representatives of organised sectors that participate in these social dialogue platforms are truly in touch with, and accountable to, their constituencies.

The core function of government is to satisfy the real needs and justified expectations of the general public. In a democratic country, the governing party obtains power through the vote of the public, in lieu of promises made in its elections manifesto. Failure to incorporate the needs and expectations of the electorate into public policy could result in a political party being removed from its seat of power. South Africa is already experiencing ongoing labour and service delivery protests. These protests are indicators that South Africans feel that public policy, and particularly the implementation thereof, are ineffective.

It is imperative that citizens are substantively included in all stages of the public policy process. Citizens should be involved from the onset. This includes involvement in defining policy problems. Problem statements should appropriately reflect key constituency concerns and the extent of the concerns. Information related to the problems should also incorporate environmental factors that have to be managed, as well as opportunities and threats. The problems in our economy, as reflected in the president’s recovery plan, have been well-diagnosed by experts. Exclusion of grassroots voices, however, could lead to either a misdiagnoses or incorrect problem prioritisation.

The inclusive identification, qualification and quantification of policy problems should be followed by a choice of evidence-based policy solutions, that are supported with social, economic and environmental costs. Furthermore, selecting policy solutions and instruments based on consensus of those with access, without exploring the impact of the selection, could result in costly mistakes, both in terms of resources and politically. Comprehensive cost-benefit analyses of proposed policy solutions are, therefore, required. This will better enable the selection of best policy solutions and instruments, thereby, optimising the fiscal spend.

The economic recovery plan was subjected to scrutiny at Nedlac and presented before Parliament, but the Nedlac and parliamentary hearing processes, in general, are insufficient. While all constituencies have an equal representation at Nedlac, the participants primarily represent the organised sections of their sectors, thereby, excluding many. Furthermore, parliamentary hearings are dominated by groups that are well-resourced. This results in public policies being biased towards the elite. Mechanisms should be found to facilitate the engagement of less resourced citizens on the feasibility of policy solutions and its long-term impacts, as well as the prioritisation of policy solutions, based on effectiveness, efficiency and available resources.

Citizens must also be involved in the implementation of public policies. This enables a higher degree of ownership and contributes to social cohesion and national pride. The infrastructure investment outlined in the economic recovery plan will be a waste if citizens are going to steal and/ or destroy it. When citizens are at the forefront of driving the implementation of the plan, however, they will defend its outputs because they appreciate the effort that went into it and value its economic and social worth.

Public policies are essential as they outline what the government will do and how the government will do it. Poorly formulated policies can result in programmatic failures and wasted expenditure. The policy-making process also presents opportunities for personal and ideological bias. It is, therefore, important that public policy problem identification, development and implementation is managed carefully.

Our country has limited resources and times are tough. Accordingly, it is imperative that all South Africans sing from the same music book. The content of the song must, however, primarily incorporate the needs and the voices of the majority; that is the only way that meaningful and sustainable success will be achieved.

* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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