/ 15 August 2012

NDP scraps increases linked to pupils’ performance

Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel.
Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel.

A proposal to link a percentage of teachers' salary increases to pupil performance has been dropped from the National Development Plan (NDP).

In the revised version – released on Wednesday – it has been replaced with a proposal to give financial incentives to schools that show a significant improvement on their annual results.

The original idea did not find favour with the education department, which considered it difficult to implement.

It was pointed out that ultimately student performance depended on a range of socio-economic conditions, and not solely teacher skills.

The National Planning Commission (NPC) said its new proposal would in practice benefit poor schools, since wealthier schools already generally fared well and would therefore show a smaller margin of improvement.

Tough economic decisions
The plan argued that South Africa needed to take tough decisions involving compromise and trade-offs.

Key proposals on the economy and employment included raising exports while taking steps to prevent excessive overvaluation of the currency.

The document also calls for improving skills development and breaking disincentives to hiring young people, as well as increasing competition and breaking monopolies.

The NDP said there was a need for the high cost of transport and logistics to be addressed, in a bid to tackle spatial divides.

It also focuses on strengthening the social wage in order to raise the living standards of the unemployed and those with lower paying jobs.

"Rising rates of investment will be achieved initially through state spending on infrastructure. The focus needs to be on infrastructure that promotes efficiency in the economy, and reduces costs for business and for individuals."

Labour market reforms are included in the NDP, but no drastic overhaul is suggested. Proposals on reducing tensions in the labour market are modest.

The public sector is the largest employer and the plan recognises the damage the current manner of managing disputes in essential services, such as health, education and policing, does not foster productivity.

"The current system neither discourages strike action, nor inspires confidence in other ways of addressing disputes and grievances.

"The determination of appropriate sanctions is required where essential services and minimum service level agreements are not upheld.

"Similarly, expectations of the state as employer to implement agreements on wages and conditions are required, and appropriate sanctions set where these are not implemented timeously."

Among the NDP's more ambitious targets is decreasing unemployment to 14% by 2020, and 6% by 2030. The plan says this could be achieved through the promotion of employment in labour absorbing industries.

"Some 90% of jobs will be created in small and expanding firms."

In order for this to happen, regulatory reform would be needed to drive entrepreneurship, and the cost of doing business would have to be lowered.

The NDP also proposes some short to medium-term interventions on how the country should respond to the current global economic crisis.

"Government needs to build in macro-policy to enable South Africa to counteract the effects of the financial crisis," it states.

The cost of going nuclear
The plan repeated a warning on the cost of nuclear power, government's preferred alternative to fossil fuels and instead advocates a diverse mix of energy sources.

The plan suggests investigating shale and coal bed methane reserves as a cheaper alternative.

"If gas reserves are proven, and environmental concerns alleviated, then development of these resources and gas-to-power projects should be fast-tracked," the plan states.

It also calls for building the necessary infrastructure to import liquefied natural gas, and for increased hydro-power imports from the region.

The update of the original plan released in November, only slightly revises energy targets the country needs to meet by 2030. This includes acquiring at least 20 000 megawatts of renewable energy and decommissioning 11 000 megawatts of ageing coal-fired power stations.

In response to widening concern about the country's ageing distribution network, and a maintenance backlog of some R35-billion, the commission proposes ring-fencing the distribution business of the country's 12 largest municipalities and developing a finance plan to tackle repairs.

The lengthy road of NHI
Successfully implementing a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme could take up to 25 years, the NPC said.

Building an NHI system is among the objectives contained in the revised NDP.

The 20-year plan names four prerequisites for a NHI scheme to work.

Critical factors include "improving the quality of public healthcare, lowering the cost of private care, recruiting more professionals in both the public and private sectors, and developing health information systems that span public and private health providers".

The revised NDP says healthcare reforms will demand significant resources, and take time. It will also require strong co-operation between the public and private sector.

Other healthcare objectives contained in the plan include drastically increasing South Africans' life expectancy to 70 years, as well as reducing injuries, accidents and violence by 50% by 2020.

A list of actions to achieve this are listed in a summary in the plan.

The document also sets out minimum norms and standards for staffing hospitals and clinics.

It also calls for minimum qualifications for hospital managers.

The NDP says while huge strides have been made in the approach to tackling HIV/Aids over the past five years, there is no room for complacency in this regard.

Taking aim at cadre deployment
The NPC has also strengthened its call for the state to move away from the cadre deployment system.

The plan states: "Build a professional public service that serves government, but is sufficiently autonomous to be insulated from political patronage.

"This requires a clearer separation between the roles of the political principal and the administrative head."

Without explicitly naming the ruling party's deployment policy, which has been in place since the late 1990s, the plan states: "In South Africa, the current approach to appointments blurs the lines of accountability."

It says the current requirement that Cabinet approve the appointment of heads of department makes it unclear whether directors general are accountable to "their minister, to Cabinet, or the ruling party".

The commission says that after the fall of apartheid, there was good reason to give political principals "wide-ranging influence" over the public service, but suggests this has largely outlived its use.

Almost 20 years later, it says attention must shift to ensuring the public service is adequately equipped to play its part in transforming society.

It proposes that in the case of top-level public servants, "a hybrid approach" reconciling administrative and political imperatives be used.

At a lower level, it advocates a purely administrative approach.

The plan again warns that Parliament's oversight role is far too weak and calls for it to be strengthened. – Sapa