BUSISIWE MAVUSO: SA’s economic future hinges on business partnering genuinely with the state

POSTED ON: March 21, 2023 IN by Admin
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By Busisiwe Mavuso

We know what needs to happen, and so does government. We just need to get it done.

The role of business as a social partner invested in the future of South Africa has changed over the past few years and, along with it, our priorities as an association representing big business.

Initially, our primary role as organised business was as an advocate for an enabling policy environment, but today our focus extends to partnering with government in its efforts to make South Africa good again. Is it business’s role? Yes, it is. It is essential to be true partners with government and other social partners.

In reality, what other choice do we have? The economy is declining, and much must be done. We can continue pointing out the government’s failures and weaknesses or help resolve these.

It is well understood that South Africa’s ongoing structural challenges are not about a lack of plans. While there are still problems in certain areas that need addressing, as a collective we need to focus our efforts on implementing the plans we do have.

That does not mean we will stop calling government out when it falls short. We will continue to advocate, criticise, praise, and weigh in on issues of national import where necessary, including in this publication and elsewhere as and when needed.

If we sat back and left the implementation of the structural change needed to government and looked after our interests very narrowly, it would have a snowball effect on the rest of the economy, and that’s not in the best interests of South Africans.

We must move as quickly and effectively as possible towards a capable state that can deliver. But recent history has taught us that we yield suboptimal results without significant private sector involvement. That is why organized business is pushing for a genuine partnership and will continue to advocate for a South Africa in which the private sector can contribute the skills, funding and knowhow to build up our infrastructure and deliver quality services to South Africans.

The reality is that business is the only social partner with the necessary financial and human resources to support government in implementing its plans. Thus, we have an obligation to use these for the betterment of the economy, and getting things done can be our only response in this situation.

As the Edelman Trust barometer shows, business is more trusted than government. If we want to win the international community’s and other investors’ confidence – and indeed that of ordinary South Africans, business needs to be part of the solution.

Most crucially, we want to ensure there is progress in addressing the four key areas that are critical in getting the South African economy back on track.

It is worth reflecting on what these are:

  1. Crime and corruption – Through cooperation with and capacitation of law enforcement, we want to reduce the negative impact of criminality and corruption on South African business and society.
  2. Energy infrastructure – We want to assist in increasing electricity supply availability and reliability.
  3. Transport and logistics – We want to create a conducive framework, in the short to medium term, for a measurable improvement in South Africa’s ports and the operational efficacy of the transport and logistics sectors.
  4. Water infrastructure – We want to increase the capacity of government and the resilience of water infrastructure to minimise disruptions to the water supply.

We know what needs to happen, and so does government. We just need to get it done. With every delay, infrastructure continues to deteriorate, and business confidence is further eroded.

Fortunately, we are not starting from nothing. Since beginning this column three years ago, BLSA has participated in many nationally important government initiatives, and we are proud of the progress we have made in alleviating the key issues holding South Africa back.

Organised business has contributed to various initiatives by putting together several crucial reports informing the debate and outcomes. These include assessing the progress towards achieving localisation targets, the likelihood and economic consequences of a greylisting, a fiscal assessment of the affordability of continuing the Basic Income Grant and the budgetary reality of establishing National Health Insurance. Our Infrastructure Report also provided critical input to the National Infrastructure Plan.

As part of our efforts to ensure inclusive socio-economic growth, we have supported the training of youths in in-demand qualifications, like Information Communications and Technology (ICT). We have also enabled the Small Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) so critical in lifting the economy by advocating for changes in regulations that support their growth and putting in place funding and mentoring mechanisms.

We have sought to support the professionalisation of the civil service, so critical to developing a capable state and we will continue working on this imperative.

Getting to where we need to be as a country will not be smooth sailing. But, with government and business committed to moving forward as quickly and effectively as possible, we can only hope that 2023 will be the tipping point in our efforts to make South Africa a better place for all.

• Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is BLSA CEO. This article first appeared in Business Day.

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