/ 19 February 2009

Blueprint to save SA jobs, houses, businesses

Government, business and labour finalised a blueprint on Thursday for minimising the effect of the global financial crisis on the South African economy.

Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa said the main aims of the crisis management plan — put together at the request of President Kgalema Motlanthe – were preventing job losses, protecting the poor and enabling the economy to recover rapidly once the global environment improved.

”The issue that is going to confront us is the issue of job losses. Business and industry is committed to doing everything to limit job losses,” Mpahlwa told a media briefing in Cape Town.

The government’s strategy for weathering the crisis would include a national jobs initiative, sustained infrastructure spending, finding bridging finance for troubled sectors and giving retrenched workers speedy access to unemployment payments and further skills training.

”If you cannot avoid retrenchments, you can make the Unemployment Insurance Fund more efficient so that workers who have got to that point do not have to wait months and months to get that,” he said.

Mpahlwa conceded, however, that the crisis would make it much harder for the government to meet its target of spending R787-billion on infrastructure projects in the next three years .

”It may be R620-billion,” he said.

”There are new challenges making it more expensive to spend money on infrastructure but the commitment we are making as a government is that we will maintain levels of infrastructure investment.”

Mphalwa added that development finance institutions would be vital to efforts to cushion the country from the crisis and urged them to ”find a role for themselves” in the national infrastructure programme.

The economic response plan was put together over four weeks by a panel of senior figures from business, labour and the state who were first convened by Motlanthe in December.

Former top mining executive Bobby Godsell said the plan was aimed at ”saving jobs, saving people’s houses and saving as many businesses as we can” while keeping the economy as healthy as possible.

”We have to do this in a way that lays the foundation for continued, shared growth,” he said.

According to Statistics SA, the economy shed 70 000 jobs in the third quarter of 2008 and some experts estimate that 250 000 workers could be retrenched as a result of the global crisis.

In response to questions, Godsell said the plan did not set a specific target on limiting job losses or put caps on bonuses businessmen may take home in the troubled times ahead.

”We will behave in a responsible way. We did not have an Obama moment though,” he added, referring to the compensation limit the US president imposed on executives at banks and firms receiving state aid. – Sapa