National planning commissioner Trevor Manuel said on Wednesday the national development plan on its own was just words on paper, and had to be developed from there.
Manuel added that the upcoming national elections offered a reason for work to be accelerated. "There needs to be a head of steam to carry over elections … the new government must come in to find the work waiting," Manuel explained.
"Governments tend not to want to innovate too much … Part of what we have to do is change behaviour in government. That is what will be important for the plan going forward."
The national development plan, often described as a blueprint for South Africa, was necessary to ensure that there was a cohesive vision and objective.
Following the meeting with the national planning commission at the Union Buildings on Wednesday morning, President Jacob Zuma said it was an opportunity to congratulate the commissioners on a job well done in drafting the plan and to discuss the critical issue of implementation.
"We needed South Africans with expertise and capabilities to help craft an overarching plan for the country, so that all of us, whatever we do, we work toward implementing that plan," Zuma said.
Plan 'accepted broadly'
Zuma said the acceptance of the plan had been "overwhelming". "I haven't heard of a country that has produced a plan which has been accepted broadly by a country … I'm not saying there aren't people who are bringing issues … What is important is people who are raising the issues should help to say 'what are the alternatives to help the plan to be better', rather than to criticise," he said.
Deputy commissioner and ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa said: "We cannot see the document as static, it is a living document, one to which people can add and talk about."
Ramaphosa said different and even dissenting views are welcome. "That is good. It can only improve the whole planning process for all of us South Africans," he said. "But still the train is moving," he said.
Ramaphosa said the commission would continue to consult with various parties including the Congress of South African Trade Unions – the biggest critic of the plan thus far – as well as the private sector, which will play a key role in the implementation of aims such as job creation.
The plan has outlined timeframes for its core objectives, and "this is why our work needs to be done with some urgency", Zuma explained.
'Learning by doing'
But Manuel said implementation is already underway and the mark of the national development plan could already be seen in plans and programmes being drawn up in a number of government departments. "It is action, not perfection, that is needed now. It was always going to be a plan focussed largely on learning by doing. We don't have all the answers."
Manuel noted that while some things, such as macroeconomic policies, were immediately under government's control, it was the micro level implementation that would need the most work.
Zuma said participants in the meeting discussed specific things that could be done to enhance implementation. "We have agreed we are going to meet more often because implementation is usually more difficult than planning … so it is important we spend more time debating and discussing."