/ 14 August 2012

Five things to watch for in the NDP

Trevor Manual.
Trevor Manual.

The National Development Plan (NDP) is a sweeping document that, at times, takes no prisoners – in its draft form. As released in November last year, it was forthright in its condemnation of policy mistakes made post-1994, blunt about painful changes that need to be made, and almost frighteningly undiplomatic in its assessment of the dangers if those changes aren't made, and fast.

In short, it was not the kind of document governments usually publish about themselves, especially not governments that face a party-internal election in the near future.

But Trevor Manuel's National Planning Commission had contrived to create itself the space to be searingly honest. It had released a diagnostic report that implied some of the more controversial recommendations it would make, then allowed those metrics to slip past largely unnoticed. It then released a 430-page draft plan that contained much which will stand unchallenged, and made it clear that consultation would be wide and deep, deflecting some initial criticism.

That allows the final version of the report, to be accepted in Parliament by Zuma on Wednesday, easy to compare to the initial plan. And that could tell us a great deal about what has been happening behind the scenes over the last nine months, as everyone from trade unions to ANC factions try to avoid the harsher recommendations from making it into government policy.

Here are some of the sections to watch out for, and why they are important:

Page 22, 'Building safer communities'

  • Demilitarising the police service – the decision to demilitarise the police force, moving away from its history of brutality, was a key goal of transformation after 1994. The remilitarisation of the police in recent years has not garnered greater respect for police officers and higher conviction rates. If anything, it has boosted violence in the service. The commission believes that the police should be demilitarised to turn the force into a civilian, professional service.

As obvious a mistake as it was, especially in hindsight, the decision to re-militarise the police remains a politically fraught one. It was touted as a solution to both high levels of crime and ill-discipline within the ranks; a single quick-fix for two problems with much deeper roots. Admitting that it didn't work (and has not been instrumental in what reductions in crime the country has seen) will have to go with a plan to address those underlaying causes, and bluster aside, no such plan exists.

Page 29, 'Active labour market policies'

  • Offer a tax subsidy to employers to reduce the initial cost of hiring young labour market entrants.

Giving employers state money, even to encourage them to hire young people, doesn't just sit ill with the ANC Youth League and the South African Communist Party, a significant faction within the ANC itself is opposed to such measures, some in principle, and some because it sounds too close to what the Democratic Alliance is championing.

Page 29, 'Labour market regulation'

  • An approach that simplifies dismissal procedures for performance or misconduct.

Being part of the tripartite alliance hasn't paid off for Cosatu, except in one important area: the protection of workers. In that, the labour group has succeeded to such an extent that conventional economic wisdom now has it that South Africa's labour market is too rigid and over-regulated to be productive, competitive and to create new jobs fast enough. Cosatu, naturally, does not accept that wisdom, and allow such protection to be rolled back would be a major blow for it.

Page 31, 'Actions'

  • Move Eskom's system operator, planning, power procurement, power purchasing and power contracting functions to the independent system and market operator and accelerated procurement of independent power producers.

Privatising Eskom is no longer on the table, but privatising the electricity sector is still a possibility. Reducing the power of such a crucial parastatal would be a major ideological shift, one that many throughout the ruling alliance will find hard to swallow.

Page 35, 'Schooling'

  • Expertise is recognised as the only criterion for appointing and promoting personnel within the education sector. Union and political interference in appointment should be removed.
  • Regularly test teachers in the subjects they teach to determine level of knowledge and competence.
  • Link teacher pay to learner performance improvements.

It's not named, but it's clear that the target here is the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), which effectively has a veto over the appointment of school principals in the majority of schools in the country. Sadtu is not going to give up that power easily, nor has it shown any interest whatsoever in competence testing and performance pay for teachers. It would — perhaps rightly — consider the adoption of this proposal as a declaration of war. And while that war is overdue, the government has shown no stomach for it.