Pretoria - “Compliance with the 30-day payment period plays a key role in ensuring operational sustainability of SMMEs. We are going to ensure that SMMEs thrive and succeed. Therefore, organs of state will be closely monitored on their performance within the 30-day payment period and any non-compliance is viewed as financial misconduct and will be dealt with accordingly.”
These were the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa while speaking at the small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs) Programme of the Second South Africa Investment Conference in Soweto in November 2019.
The president has on several occasions repeated this sentiment, linking it to job creation and preservation, yet it appears he says the right things only to satisfy outspoken voices and calm concerns about unemployment.
It has now become the norm that Ramaphosa speaks, but his ministers and the lieutenants tasked with implementation do the opposite. He often chooses to threaten fire and brimstone when he has the power to take action. It has become quite embarrassing for his administration.
Last Wednesday, a report released by the Public Service Commission (PSC) on the late payment of invoices showed how most departments were found wanting on compliance with the regulations as set out by the National Treasury, to pay service providers within 30 days of submission of invoices. This is not new. Ask any entrepreneur about their frustrations of doing business with the government, you will hear stories littered with challenges and why they opt not to do any business with the state.
The latest unemployment statistics paint a bleak picture. A picture whose image is largely dominated by black women and young people – the same age group that most small businesses endeavour to help, either through the transfer of skills or by employing them.
With the number of unemployed people nearing 8 million, in a country with a population of 57 million, and a youthful population at that, there is no inspiring plan on the table that speaks of catering for small businesses, and the challenges they face.
Instead, we have a bumbling Minister of Small Business, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, whose boss is always indecisive and cannot call her to account for her incompetence.
Ramaphosa must stop the rhetoric and give small business owners some reprieve. He, uniquely, has the power to hold his Cabinet to account. He needs to declare that at least by the end of June, government departments must be compliant on this issue and there should be zero tolerance for those seeking to use their power in office to sabotage small business owners who refuse to pay tjotjo (bribes) to get their invoices attended to.
It is because corruption has been normalised in the public service administration that it has not only become a joke, but is often found wanting with the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.
Economic recovery requires bold action. I propose that the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and the National Treasury must by September provide a full report, including what the ministers have done with the delinquents, and how they are going to sustain accountability. September is Public Service Month – maybe we can see some attention dedicated to this call of action.
As a small business owner I am not holding my breath, because with our government, solution-driven proposals always fall on deaf ears.
It has been more than two years since Ramaphosa promised action. But businesses continue to struggle, thanks to delinquent accounting officers who know there are no consequences for ignoring the president.
It’s a tough road ahead for small business owners, and even tougher this year as ANC leaders in government ignore
their daily jobs, while concentrating on provincial conferences and the ultimate big jamboree in December. Don’t hold your breath, the circus continues.