South Africa’s recent Cabinet reshuffle seems to have brought on a new wave of optimism into the country. Though regarded by many as a hard compromise on the part of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the new sheriff in town seems to have moved the deck around enough to halt the slide in public confidence in the government. No less than the Chamber of Mines of South Africa has come out and expressed its confidence in the new Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Gwede Mantashe. This follows on a commitment by the Minister to finish consultations on revisions to the Mining Charter proposed by the former Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane.
Despite such positive noises, there is still a sense that much remains to be done to get the government fit for purpose in delivering on the objectives of reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty. It will be interesting to see what new proposals government will be making as we enter the new Financial Year in April 2018.
From our perspective, one of the critical levers which the government of President Zuma squandered was the requirement to undertake earnest consultations with interested stakeholders on new legislation and regulations, as well as the amendment of existing laws and regulations. This happened inspite of government recognising this flaw when it adopted the Guidelines on the Conduct of Socio-Economic Impact Assessments System (SEIAS) in May 2015, which is overseen by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. Too many times, government Departments gave themselves the latitude to legislate/amend legislation without due consideration of the interests of affected parties. This happened with the Mining Charter, the Liquor Bill and the allowance given to the US to export chicken to South Africa despite the tangible concerns of the industry and labour.
In some cases, governmental responsibilities became too intertwined with the passions of the concerned Ministers to the exclusion of sensible policy making. Mosebenzi Zwane is a case in point. In the end, government found itself on the receiving end of court summonses and interdicts. Parliament ended up on the receiving end of badly drafted legislation which was not sufficiently reflective of the costs of implementation and impact on broader society.
Government has an opportunity to strengthen the role of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) as part of the effort to make good policy. NEDLAC was created precisely because it was felt that no one stakeholder had the capability to understand society’s problems in all their complexity. It was created to bring together government, business, labour and the community to allow these parties to make relevant inputs into policies before they end up in Parliament, again understanding that there is only so much that the public consultation process can achieve if not backed up by a robust process of engagement outside Parliament.
Within government, the President ought to review the cluster system to determine its efficacy. Too many times policies have been adopted by the social cluster without sufficient consideration of the economic impact. For instance, the Liquor Bill proposes raising the age of consent for consuming liquor from 18 to 21. Economic concerns resulting from such are brushed aside as if they are immaterial. One would have thought the economic cluster Departments would have spent the time and resources to investigate the impact of these proposals on employment, small traders as well as the practical issues attendant to their implementation. The same goes for restricting advertising without a clear causal link between advertising per se and the decision to consume liquor.
President Ramaphosa is famous for his democratic ways and ability to bring different parties to the table and carve out a consensual solution. He has an opportunity, certainly during the grace period to the next elections in 2019, to revisit the architecture of policy making to make it more responsive to the interests of all stakeholders. He has an opportunity to ensure that outside the advisory councils he intends to convene, opportunities are created for labour and the community to make meaningful inputs into policy at the development stage. This may take longer. However, it’s impact will be felt immediately as implementable policy will result from the process.