SUNDAY TIMES - Let's hear other voices on strategic projects,,
Sunday Times STLive By Editorial, 2012-02-12

Let's hear other voices on strategic projects

Eers, custom-fitted earphones. File picture

President Jacob Zuma has delivered a workmanlike state of the nation address that departs from the vagueness of previous years. He has provided the broad outline of a plan to prioritise the renewal and development of South Africa's rail, road, water and electrical infrastructure.

But he has once again failed to provide a road map out of the bureaucracy that is strangling small business growth.

A good portion of the billions of rands he spoke about is "recycled" money that has previously been allocated, as we point out in the Business Times section of this week's newspaper.

But it is encouraging that he has identified an efficient infrastructure as the key to unlocking South Africa's economic potential.

To lead this initiative, Zuma wants to establish a Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission or PICC, "bringing together ministers, premiers and metro mayors under the leadership of the president and the deputy president".

"The PICC has identified and developed projects and infrastructure initiatives from state-owned enterprises as well as national, provincial and local government departments. These have been clustered, sequenced and prioritised into a pipeline of strategic integrated projects."

That's all good and well, but is this the right body to make decisions about action on infrastructure?

By bringing together political leaders to determine infrastructure spending, he is opening the door for constituency-based "pork barrel" politics where the objective needs of the economy take a back seat to the dispensing of patronage.

He would do well to consider placing decisions about infrastructure spending in the hands of a more creative and dynamic body - one that includes those with technical know-how, including some from the private sector and the trade unions.

There is no question that the most telling and credible documents to emerge from the government under his tenure have come from the National Planning Commission, precisely because it is not a committee only of politicians.

The commission did not flinch when it laid bare our challenges and it has proposed solutions that are a breath of fresh air.

The PICC is unlikely to produce such dynamic results.

Zuma alluded to using the World Cup template for project management.

But the World Cup was managed with the sort of ruthlessness that our bureaucracy has failed to display.

When a security company threatened to disrupt a game, it was replaced the same day. The government needs to show that it is serious by showing a little mettle.