One of the biggest tests for any political party in power is its ability to conceive of policies and strategies that can provide the greatest possible socioeconomic impact, and to implement them successfully.
This requires a combination of credible leadership, effective mechanisms for determining policies at party level and a capable state to implement these policies. The party leader must be able to command solid support to achieve policy consistency and coherence.
Yet it may not be obvious to many people that South Africa has, in fact, been governed by a loose coalition since 1994 — the tripartite alliance of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu. It has been operating since then without any agreement that clearly specifies roles, areas of responsibility and mandates for each of the partners.
In the absence of such a regulated relationship, unproductive ideological gridlocks become the norm and dysfunction often results. The outcome is policy incoherence and inconsistency of the type we have seen in the ANC-led government’s performance. This has also attracted negative comment from institutions such as the World Bank and ratings agencies.
Conventional practice is that governing coalitions negotiate and agree on structural arrangements that specify areas of responsibility and mandate in specific policy areas. The leading partner would always cherry-pick areas such asthe economy, defence and security, foreign policy and home affairs, and the balance would be allocated to the other partners on the basis of their strengths.
These types of arrangements do not prevent robust debate on policy but, ultimately, the political leadership follows the agreed-on split.
But what we have seen is that the 2012 National Development Plan (NDP) has been vocally challenged by Cosatu for entrenching neoliberal principles that, in the labour federation’s view, are not aligned with the dominant ideology in the alliance.
As a result, the plan’s implementation has been patchy and the message behind it has become confused. Its intended value — as an instrument of grand strategic vision — has also been diluted and mangled.
An example of this faultline in the tripartite alliance is the frequent — and absolutely legitimate — complaint by both Cosatu and the SACP that they are excluded from key decisions such as the appointment of ministers. Consultation on such matters would ordinarily happen in a well-structured alliance with an effective governance framework. But the ANC has been excluding its partners from this important decision-making process, adding fuel to the accusation that the party only needs its partners as vote catchers.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will need to address this weakness urgently and bring about stability in how policy is determined and how decisions are made in the alliance. Failing to do so will continue the current dysfunctionality.
The NDP 2030 is a grand vision statement but we need to determine a set of long-term, high-impact projects in anchor sectors to drive growth and job creation. The Jobs Summit proposed by the president should therefore be called the Growth and Employment Summit. Its urgency is beyond doubt.
Successful Asian countries piloted this approach to deal with profound social inequities. We have faced similar challenges since our transition to democracy. These complex inherited socioeconomic inequities require innovative solutions.
Central to such a strategy is establishing a separate and highly technocratic development commission with full political and legislative mandates to manage the implementation of the high-impact projects that are identified. Our patchy history of success with policy implementation suggests this may be the best option.
The president also emphasised the need for a capable state to deliver on government policy choices and strategies in the three spheres of government. It was a welcome and absolutely necessary commitment. But we have been here before.
The concept of a developmental state was the flavour of the early and latter parts of the Zuma tenure. What was ignored, however, was that running a capable state requires competent people.
Deploying cadres who do not possess the skills to sustain capable and effective state machinery is irrational and must have been pursued to build a patronage network. This is clearly not in the interests of the public.
The State of the Nation statement was anchored in conveying a sense of confidence, given the past decade of regression that has seen the economy growing at less than the population growth rate. A level of scepticism demands that Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” must be marked by credible and urgent indicators of change.
The state-owned enterprises provide easy opportunities for effecting this urgently desired change. Their governance structures and boards can be improved quickly, provided that competent people with relevant skills are selected to deal with them. This has been at the centre of the collapse in performance and governance that we have seen.
Change will always be needed at municipalities. Patronage and corruption are deeply entrenched at this level, where the state interacts directly with the people. But achieving capable state machinery at municipal level is complex.
Many small municipalities do not have an economic base that is strong enough to generate the revenue needed to support the cost of the services they are expected to provide. A broad, deep restructuring and policy review are needed to change the
The litmus test for the reforms indicated by Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation speech will be the calibre of people he surrounds himself with in his Cabinet.
It is not clear whether the factional battles in the ANC and the pressure from the party’s alliance partners will prevent him from having sufficient scope to be visionary and deliver on the credibility he projected in his opening address as state president.
These constraining factors will loom large over the ANC’s prospects in the 2019 elections.
Finally, Mr President, it is not only nonexecutive board members who must be isolated from the procurement processes in state-owned enterprises. It is your own ministers who must be prohibited from intervening, because that is where the pressure for devious rent-seeking intentions emanates from.
Thabang Motsohi is an organisational strategist for Lenomo Advisory. These are his own views