Mascot ministers

Ebrahim Patel, economic development minister, and Trevor Manuel, the minister for national planning, are mascots for the larger battle over South Africa’s economic policy direction.

Like the costumed characters at a football game, they are emblems. In Patel’s case of the cause of the political left dominated by alliance partners South African Communist Party and Cosatu; in Manuel’s case of the more moderate lobby within government.

But the creation of a post as broad and overarching as Manuel’s may be doomed to clash not just with Patel’s job, but with other ministries as well.

Patel, a trade unionist and representative of the left in Zuma’s new Cabinet, is ostensibly being sidelined when it comes to setting economic policy, according to critics such as Cosatu.

Manuel, meanwhile, through his overarching role heading national planning, is deemed to have too much control over the broad direction South Africa will take, particularly over macroeconomic policy.

Cosatu has taken particular issue with Manuel’s Green Paper on national strategic planning. The paper does not apparently allow for economic policy to be directed by Patel’s department.

Brewing tensions are further compounded because the treasury, under Pravin Gordhan, is still responsible for macroeconomic policy by law. But both ministers seem confident of their mandate.

In his budget vote to Parliament on taking the job Patel said: ‘The department will be responsible to develop economic policy with a broad, cross-cutting focus so that macro and microeconomic policy reinforce each other.

‘The fundamental departure point of this mandate is that employment should [be] the overarching goal of economic policies.” Patel said that , through the medium-term strategic framework, a number of programmes of action have been finalised.

Of these, four have been assigned to the department of economic development. They are: coordinating work on South Africa’s growth path; working on the deficit on the current account of the balance of payments; strengthening social dialogue and the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) processes; and working on policy responses on income inequality.

The department also seeks the creation of green jobs and public procurement policies to enhance local jobs, said Patel. Manuel , meanwhile, in his Green Paper, sets out clearly the job of his ministry.

It entails creating the long-term nataional strategic vision. This is the broad developmental direction for the country, which entails addressing the strategic issues South Africa will face, such as water and food security, climate change, the health profile of the nation and so forth.

The commission will be responsible for the revamped medium-term strategic framework — designed over five years and reviewed annually.

Finally, it will produce the short-term programme of action, released annually, outlining government’s priorities for the year. But to provide this vision to the country, it’s obvious Manuel’s department will need to be everywhere at once.

It will need to grapple with almost every level of government to ensure proper coordination between spheres. This will inevitably mean a certain degree of influence over macroeconomic policy.

Although it will not have a budgeting function, the commission has to ‘prioritise the allocation of resources within a broad developmental framework”, according to the Green Paper.

But what is also clear is that Manuel’s department will not only be involved in macroeconomic policy, it will be involved, in one form or another, in a host of other government functions. It may not just be Patel’s toes he stands on.


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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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