BUSISIWE MAVUSO: SA needs Chinese-like commitment to its development plan

POSTED ON: June 7, 2022 IN by Admin
plan plan

By Busisiwe Mavuso

Quality education enabled individuals to fulfil their potential while a reliable energy supply was a prerequisite for economic growth.

The National Development Plan: Vision for 2030, launched in 2011, is a brilliant policy document. It was the first holistic attempt to map out a future path for South Africa.

As with so many things South African, implementation has been our downfall. While certainly it wasn’t a surprise given the slow pace of structural reform, the recent admission by Mmamoloko Kubayi, head of the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee, that its goals will not be met by 2030 once again highlights the damage done from so many missed opportunities.

The National Development Plan (NDP) was the first major initiative in South African policy making driven by evidence and it covered all spheres of society. The National Planning Commission that drafted the plan had conducted thorough research, which had three phases. First was the diagnostic stage, identifying the problems in each sphere. Second, it developed a comprehensive plan to address those problems and a strategy to achieve the targets in each sphere. The third phase was the monitoring and evaluation that was supposed to have taken place over time to assess whether the interventions were working, providing flexibility to adapt where progress was not satisfactory.

China’s incredible economic growth since it began opening and reforming its then-communist economy in 1978, averaging almost 10% a year, is based on a series of such meticulous plans, each of which is guided by the framework of a longer 30-year plan. This year it adopted its 14th five-year plan. About 800-million people have been lifted out of poverty by these plans.

The difference of course is that China implements its plans but SA does not and today we have severe problems in each of the spheres covered by the NDP which range from economic infrastructure and environmental sustainability to building state capacity and and fighting corruption. Cadre deployment, where unqualified people were appointed to key positions, resulted in lack of delivery and missed goals.

A great irony is that the NDP emphasised that achieving the goals in education and infrastructure were critical to the overall goal of building an inclusive economy, transforming society and uniting the country. It recognised that quality education enabled individuals to fulfil their potential while a reliable energy supply was a prerequisite for economic growth. This is so obvious it didn’t need a study.  Yet this week we learned that 40% of children drop out of school before matric while the country suffers from repeated load shedding.

How different would South Africa be today if we’d achieved just those two sets of targets. We’d have a reliable energy supply and 90% of pupils in grades 3, 6 and 9 would need to score at least 50% in maths, literacy and science. Instead, these are two areas of significant failure since the NDP was endorsed by Cabinet in 2012.

This is why there are so many calls from all sectors of society, including organised business, labour and civil society organisations, to accelerate implementation of the current reforms being undertaken. The opportunity cost of the delays is enormous.

What’s important is to go back to each sphere in the plan, conduct research to assess what progress has been made in each area and set new, realistic targets, with a strategy on how to reach them.

In some departments there has been extensive progress because the NDP has served as a guiding document. An example is in health where the NDP goal was to improve the infant mortality rate from 43 deaths per 1,000 infants to below 20; today it is at 24,3.

But many other areas of government barely paid lip service to it and there seem to be no consequences for them. For example the NDP understood the developmental role that state-owned enterprises could play and listed a broad set of reforms to improve their efficiency and ability to serve the public interest. Instead we got state capture looting which gutted SOEs and left them with crippling debt burdens needing massive bailouts from the South African taxpayer. Today we’re still struggling to rejuvenate them and they’re largely incapable of serving the public interest in key network industries, which is crippling economic growth.

What gives the NDP credibility is that it is purely evidence-based policy, free of any ideological influence. It needs to remain so to give the country the best chance of reaching its targets. And they’re worth striving for, including the economic and education goals no matter how outlandish they might sound given the state of both today. These include tripling the size of the economy and bringing unemployment down to 6% (it was at 25% in 2011 and is now at 34.5%); and having at least 80% of learners completing 12 years of schooling ( latest data was about 60%).

The country had a credible vision and need to develop equally credible willingness and capacity to implement it as a matter of urgency.

• Mavuso is CEO of Business Leadership SA. This article has been update from the original version published in Business Day on 6 June.

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