/ 14 July 2009

Govt committed to halving unemployment

The government is still committed to halving unemployment and poverty by 2014, despite the global economic downturn, National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel said on Tuesday.

Outlining the government’s Medium Strategic Framework (MTSF) in Pretoria, Manuel said its main focus was to minimise the impact of the economic crisis on the country’s productive capacity, on jobs and on poverty reduction measures.

It has so far cost 200 000 jobs this year.

”The challenge that presents itself to us, is that we cannot continue with the high levels of unemployment … This is the kind of commitment that we must make.”

Manuel said government’s focus would be on creating decent jobs, but that this was not mutually exclusive with President Jacob Zuma’s promise to create half a million job opportunities by the end of the year.

Though these tended to be short-term and originated from the government’s infrastructure building programme, they brought relief to families and therefore the two types of job-creation should ”be read together”, he said.

”In the short run, much employment creation will likely come from activities that depend largely on government spending, especially public-employment schemes based in infrastructure construction programmes and government-supported community service and cultural activities,” the framework says.

”The challenge is to fast-track these programmes in order to alleviate the suffering caused by the global economic downturn.”

Manuel said low-import industrial activity, such as building houses, should be boosted to help create jobs and new infrastructure projects started to fill the void left by the completion of work for next year’s Soccer World Cup.

”We need to continue moving on infrastructure otherwise we will fall into a procyclical trough at the end of the Fifa 2010 World Cup.”

He said the medium-term strategy to create jobs would see the state seek to stimulate the car, chemical, metal fabrication, tourism, clothing and textile industries.

”Focus areas will also include agriculture, public services like health and education, private services such as the financial and other business services.”

Manuel said the job creation drive — and the need to improve food security — would probably include an agriculture reform strategy.

According to the document this will address ”the mass joblessness and poverty of the former bantustans”.

Looking beyond colour
He played down a firm target to get 30% of farmland into black hands by 2014, saying instead the important issue was to ensure that emerging farmers had the means to succeed and that land was used productively.

”We want to look beyond colour,” he said.

The former finance minister reiterated that despite the recession, the government remained committed to planned infrastructure expenditure of about R780-billion in the medium term, but government departments would have to cut unnecessary spending.

To this end, a comprehensive review of government spending would be completed before his successor Pravin Gordhan read his first budget.

Joel Netshitenze, head of policy in the presidency, said he hoped however that even in coming months, departments could identify areas where they could save funds in order to focus more effectively in others.

The MSTF, a planning blueprint introduced by Zuma’s administration, aims to ensure that the government worked in a coherent way to achieve its aims.

It identifies ten strategic priorities. This includes economic and social infrastructure, rural redevelopment, food security and land reform, access to quality education, improved healthcare and the fight against crime and corruption.

Manuel said that in order to achieve government’s commitments it needed a vigorous analysis of its own performance. It would also require buy-in from social partners.

He insisted that trade unions had agreed to monitoring of teachers’ performance to ensure ”better outcomes” in education, but conceded that the mechanisms were still a matter of debate.

In the wide ranging briefing, he also underscored a commitment from Gordhan to stick to inflation targeting, despite strong opposition from the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

”You don’t abandon the approach to price stability because it is difficult to achieve.”

He scoffed at a press report on Monday that the government’s blueprint for dealing with the global downturn and the country’s first recession since the 1990s, developed with Nedlac, was a in a state of ”paralysis”.

Admitting that the economic rescue plan was not taking shape ”quite as speedily as we would like”, he said he checked the story and found it to be a ”fiction”. – Sapa