Can we find a new way to deal with policies that are “urgent”? For a moment, at the start of the Covid-19 crisis, we seemed to have one. The state acted fast, pulled together experts and worked hard to analyse the best options and then implement them to slow the spread of the disease. We had a glimpse of what is possible.
The problem is that in other areas, “urgent” seems to mean little. We sit now with load shedding because we have been slow in delivering energy policies and procurement that we’ve known we needed long ago. It is almost a year since government published a request for information on “emergency” power supply options. At least a bidding process has begun to procure 2,000MW of new production, but it is going to close in late November with a preferred bidder likely only before Christmas. Suppliers then must achieve financial close and build projects, so realistically we will only see the first contribution to the grid around mid-2022. We could have done better.
Separately, Eskom has been procuring around 200MW through its urgent short-term power purchase programme that was supposed to ensure additional electricity for the grid from December. That process has been delayed several times, in part by Covid-19, and we are now told it will result in new electricity for the grid only from end-February.
Meanwhile, the country is being rocked by load shedding – just as the economy was attempting to get back on its knees after the worst economic shock in a decade.
This attitude to urgency is not restricted to energy. We have been waiting for the auction of spectrum for increased broadband since 2007 when the policy directive was first issued. The lack of capacity of the cell phone companies is throttling the economy and forcing high data prices. Yet last week we heard that the auction has been delayed yet again from the end of this month to March next year.
When you delve into these, you can find lots of reasons for delays. But in all cases, we seem to lack the “make it happen” attitude that we saw at the beginning of the Covid-19 battle. Of course, we didn’t get everything right in the policy steps then, but at least we understood and behaved with urgency. The benefits of those early measures are being felt now with the infection rate having peaked before expectations, enabling most of the economy to resume activity with the move to level two.
Now, though, the lack of a demonstrable appreciation of urgency is jarring.
In part, the lack of urgency arises from the independent roles that different parties must play given the complex regulatory processes in energy and spectrum allocations. We want independent regulators because we believe it is in the public interest. But we should expect that those regulators will prioritise the public interest, thereby delivering policy outcomes fast. They should be enabled to do so from the political level with the right legislative support.
As business, we have always stood ready to offer support to help drive urgent implementation. Business generally comes from a “make it happen” culture in which urgency is often embraced to take advantage of opportunities and deliver what clients need. The voluntary effort put into Business For South Africa and initiatives like the Solidarity Fund demonstrate this. We have the people with both the technical skills to work on projects and an appreciation that the urgency of the situation implies there can be no excuses. We are ready and willing to engage with other social partners to deliver on urgent priorities.
Let us collectively find a new appreciation for “urgent” priorities and come together with the energy and drive to turn them into reality.
The strong anti-corruption stance taken recently by the president is encouraging and business will stand behind him and support the “good fight”. The fact UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping was suspended for alleged irregularities in the Ters-related benefit scheme for workers so soon after the new stance was announced is encouraging. It gives teeth to the new policy. I wrote in Business Report that these measures will help rebuild the credibility of state institutions and restore confidence. I can’t over-emphasise just how important an ingredient this is to the revival of the South African economy.
The state and its ability to act on corruption does seem to be in the process of repair, I wrote in my Business Day column. The resistance that emerged from within the governing party after the introspective letter by the president on the state of his party was expected. There are those with vested interests in ensuring the status quo remains, but the president and the country as a whole can no longer shy away from this battle.
This is a weekly newsletter from BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso.
BLSA is a business organisation that believes in South Africa’s future and shares the values set out in the Constitution. In 2017, BLSA signed a contract with South Africa, committing business to playing its part in creating a South Africa of increasing prosperity for all by harnessing the resources and capabilities of business in partnership with government and civil society to deliver economic growth, transformation and inclusion.
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