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28 Jul 2012 14:05
The plan's proposal for a postponement of the Mthombo refinery is unlikely to be popular. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)
Policy turf battles between Cabinet ministers and their respective departments will be the biggest hurdle facing the national planning commission’s 20-year vision for South Africa, the national development plan.
After months of public interaction, the revised draft plan, known as Vision 2030, was put before Cabinet a month ago for input from the gamut of ministers.
It is set for final adoption at the next Cabinet lekgotla in the third week of August.
Although the plan already dovetails with government policy and programmes, such as the state’s infrastructure roll-out, there are other areas where commentators have indicated that it is out of step with government plans. The executive has yet to show how it plans to square these differences.
In general, the national development plan has been well received by civil society and the business world.
But the danger is that a policy proposal, especially one as broad as this, could get mere lip service from many in the executive and will gather dust as the finer points are fought over.
Since it was launched in November last year, the national planning commission has been on an intensive public-engagement process.
As a result, the revised draft plan, which is due to be made public on August 15, will be somewhat different to the document released last year, according to Kuben Naidoo, acting head of the commission secretariat.
Changes include removing the proposal that managers earning above R300 000 a year be excluded from Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration processes.
Similarly, the proposal that teacher pay be linked to pupil performance has also been removed because the commission was persuaded that this was “unimplementable”, given the complexities of the education system and the social and economic dynamics that impact on it, Naidoo said.
He would not be drawn on any further changes, because it would be “out of context and so it is inappropriate for me to go into detail on any changes from the draft”.
Naidoo nevertheless described the amendments as amounting to changes to roughly 20% of the plan.
The proposal of performance-linked pay for teachers has been questioned by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who was quoted by the Sowetan late last year as calling it “unrealistic”.
Brutus Malada, senior researcher at the Forum for Public Dialogue, has also pointed out that Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande failed to acknowledge the national development plan in his green paper on education, released in January.
It does not bode well for its reception by the colleagues of trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency and the plan’s architect.
“It is not encouraging that the minister of higher education already refuses to acknowledge the existence of the national development plan and has his plans pulling in a different direction,” Malada told the Mail & Guardian.
In addition, he said, essential targets, such as those on enrolment in higher education, differed widely in the plan and in the green paper on education.
Should the link of teacher pay to performance by scrapped, he said, it would only serve to “reinforce the strength of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union over government”.
But nowhere are the differences in Cabinet clearer than in the energy policy space.
The national development plan has made a number of proposals that clearly sit outside the energy department’s 20-year electricity road map, known as the integrated resource plan (IRP2010). The latter makes ample provision to ramp up the nuclear power pool, aiming to roll out 9600MW of power. The national development plan wants nuclear power to be reconsidered entirely.
“South Africa needs a thorough investigation of the implication of nuclear energy, including its costs, safety, environmental benefits, localisation and employment opportunities, uranium enrichment, fuel fabrication and the dangers of weapons proliferation,” it said.
The commission has openly advocated the exploration of gas, including shale gas in the Karoo, as an alternative to both coal and nuclear power options for the country.
The national development plan also proposes that long-held plans to invest in another petroleum refinery be postponed until at least after 2017.
This is unlikely to go down well with those who would like to see PetroSA, which reports to the energy department, eventually establish the Mthombo refinery project in the Coega Industrial Development Zone.
In its labour-market proposals, the national development plan has called for a subsidy or tax incentive for the hiring of young people. Union federation Cosatu, a powerful lobby in the ANC leadership, has vilified this idea. Others in the labour movement, such as National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni, said there was the risk that such a subsidy would be exploited. There was little evidence that such an incentive could be applied ethically in the South African environment, he told the M&G.
“There will be those who simply aim to maximise their profits by exploiting the subsidy,” he said.
Baleni said the national development plan was a positive move, “even though we might not agree with all the solutions proposed”, and represented the type of common vision the country had needed since the advent of democracy.
But, he said, the implementation of such a plan, given all the differences it attempted to encompass, would be the critical test.
Baleni advocated for some kind of internal audit function to be included in the final version of the plan and tougher performance monitoring of Cabinet.
There are areas in which the national development plan chimes with proposals put forward by the ANC’s policy conference. But on difficult and arguably key areas, such as the ANC’s proposal of “strategic nationalisation”, they differ.
Naidoo criticised what he called a “fixation with factionalism” in the government.
“The planning commission is an advisory body, tasked with advising the president, Cabinet and the country on issues which have an impact on long-term development. We have presented proposals that we feel are pragmatic.”
The body “naturally” understands the importance of the ruling party in political discourse and therefore has “to take seriously its policy proposals”.
But Naidoo stressed: “We are not a creature of Cabinet or the ruling party and should take an approach that is above the party political.”
The focus on Cabinet’s internal battles is a case of “looking for ghosts in the shadows, seeking conflict and differences when none may exist”.
Naidoo is confident that, given the nature of the commission’s work and the pragmatism of its proposals, in time the plan will withstand ideological differences and factionalism.
Let us hope he is right.
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