HILARY JOFFE: Cabinet and Sona must send the right signals

12 May 2019 - 00:04 By HILARY JOFFE

President Cyril Ramaphosa's first state of the nation address (Sona), in February last year, sent a strong message of growth and job creation and promised a major push to encourage significant new investment in SA. His second such address, in February this year, reported significant progress and committed to a more detailed set of initiatives to improve conditions for doing business, including restructuring Eskom.
Now he is set to deliver his third Sona in June. Will he say and do what's needed to make SA investible?
It may seem an odd question, given the success of his October investment conference and the strides made in tackling corruption and governance issues at key state institutions. Yet as he and SA have painfully discovered over the past year of static growth, rising unemployment and declining real investment, talking up the South African story and tinkering at the edges is not, on its own, going to elicit the kind of investment SA needs to put it on a new, job-creating growth path.
The policy environment remains uncertain and difficult in areas such as visas, mining and broadband, not to mention land and the Reserve Bank. Though the presidency is open to business, it's not at all clear that the rest of the government is.
And then there's Eskom's continued financial and operational crisis, and continued dysfunction at most of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The government has been stuck in crisis and micro-management mode rather than offering any clear way forward for SOEs that provide vital economic infrastructure.
This is why Ramaphosa's choice of cabinet is so important. It will signal whether he has the balls and the ability within the party to cut the patronage and put in capable people who can turn around the government's performance.
But it will signal, too, whether he can focus on a clear set of priorities to deliver the growth and jobs his party's posters promised - which he can achieve only with significant investment.
That means real economy investment, not just the financial investment - in bonds and equities - that SA continues to attract. Markets tend to focus on rating agencies and they have given SA a relatively easy ride lately, making it clear they are looking to structural economic reforms after the elections, but also that their expectations are relatively low - as indeed are their growth forecasts.
But ratings mainly drive bond market investors and lenders whereas the folk making decisions about whether to set up new businesses or build new facilities or hire new staff need more tangible signs that there will be reliable, affordable electricity, water and transport, a predictable regulatory framework and a business-friendly government. That's what Ramaphosa will have to show, in his cabinet and his Sona and, crucially, in what he does from there on.
• Joffe is a communications consultant and freelance journalist..

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