BUSISIWE MAVUSO: Beyond the headlines, glimmers of hope

POSTED ON: March 7, 2023 IN by Admin
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By Busisiwe Mavuso

In drawing attention to progress, we shouldn’t minimise the very real and serious challenges we face.

Business is under no illusions as to the scale and urgency of the problems South Africa faces, Eskom being just one of them. What is the appropriate response?

While making our voices heard, business must focus on providing the critical support that is needed to bring the country back from the brink. If anything, we must upweight our support and continue to engage and help solve problems.

In last month’s budget speech, Minister Enoch Godongwana lowered the government’s outlook for economic growth for 2023 to 0.9%, from the 1.4% that was expected last October. Behind those numbers lurks the real tragedy of foregone social spending because of the crises in electricity and in logistics alongside unacceptably high levels of crime and corruption.

The good, and possibly surprising, news is that there is still an environment in which progress is possible. In some areas, this environment is more conducive than it has been for some time.

There are areas in which South Africa is becoming more conducive to development. There are plans and actions in place that must receive our focused effort.

Business is providing support to Operation Vulindlela (OV), a joint initiative of The Presidency and National Treasury initiated in 2020 to coordinate crucial reforms and drive economic growth, which has made tangible, necessary progress in terms of our key sectors. Importantly, its work encompasses the fundamental, massive change in the architecture of how energy is produced and procured in South Africa.

Eskom is in terrible operational and financial shape, but we’re also witnessing concrete, game-changing steps at the highest levels to decentralise energy generation in South Africa. If successful, the impacts over the next ten years are going to be unrecognisable. Eskom is in the process of being restructured. The licensing threshold for embedded generation has been raised. Nersa processes for licensing larger projects are being streamlined. New generation capacity is being procured. And municipalities have been enabled to procure power from independent power producers.

OV is also making progress on telecommunications: the spectrum auction has been completed; water: license applications are being improved, the Blue and Green Drop system is being revived, a National Water Resource Infrastructure Agency and an independent economic regulator for water are being established, and a revised raw water pricing strategy is being finalised; transport: TNPA is being corporatised, the White Paper on National Rail Policy has been published, and third-party access to the freight rail network is being finalised; and tourism: a revised critical skills list has been released, the Policy Framework and processes for work visas are being reviewed, and visa waivers are being expanded.

Some of these initiatives fix self-inflicted problems and some are woefully delayed. But they do mark concrete improvements to areas of vital concern.

We have capable technocrats and leaders at the helm of our Finance Ministry. Last month Minister Godongwana delivered a budget that outlined concrete measures being taken to address Eskom’s debt, incentivise solar installation by households and businesses and called for private sector participation in the extension of transmission capacity. For the first time, government gave a clear signal that the resolution of the electricity crisis does not revolve solely around Eskom.

Minister Godongwana also announced that R1.3bn had been allocated to the NPA to support the implementation of the recommendations of the State Capture Commission and the FATF. An additional R265.3mn was allocated to the FIC to tackle organised and financial crime, while additional police officers are being employed. A total of R14bn was allocated to fight crime and corruption, up from R9.1bn last year.

This fiscal support expands the capacity of a crime-fighting apparatus increasingly marked by public-private collaboration. The Eyes & Ears initiative, a joint venture between the SAPS and Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA), is significantly boosting SAPS capacity in the critical area of intelligence gathering. Furthermore, BLSA signed a MoU with the NPA last year whose purpose is to mobilise scarce private sector skills and capabilities in selected areas.

Partnerships in other areas are stronger than ever. In addition to BLSA support to OV and other state organs, work is also being done in support of the Presidential SOE Council, making the economic case for the restructure of SOEs.

Let’s not lose sight of the possible. In drawing attention to progress, we shouldn’t minimise the very real and serious challenges we face.

But at the same time, this is not the time for business to renounce its responsibility. We have agency, we have talent, and we have the resources and ability to build a better country. And so, we have a job to do: not to lament the current headlines, but to work alongside government and society so that those headlines – slowly, surely – change for the better. The future of South Africa depends on it.

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

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