A speech full of fresh plans - but will there be competent men and women to carry them out, or the same old cadre club?

10 February 2019 - 00:06

This week the big talking points from the state of the nation address are the actual contents of the speech - after many years when the headlines belonged to the commotion in parliament and the conduct of the president and opposition parties.
There will always be political theatre, of course, particularly in an election year, but there was general appreciation on Thursday night that showmanship would be misplaced.
Considering the magnitude of SA's problems, parliament needs to cease being a platform for slapstick and focus on real issues, political accountability and the contestation of ideas.
After Thursday night's speech, there can be no doubt that there is real political willingness to get SA on the right track. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a gamut of measures to make the state functional and improve responsiveness to deep-rooted problems.
These included the establishment of a special directorate in the National Prosecuting Authority to deal with state capture and other serious corruption, the introduction of a new eVisa regime, and the splitting of Eskom into three divisions. A new business model is to be developed to make the energy utility more financially stable.
But the state of the nation address is aspirational, and Ramaphosa's presidency cannot be judged on his grand plans and good intentions - especially when the recurrent problem with the government is poor implementation of policies and decisions.
This has a lot to do with having the wrong people in key positions in the state.
It is now well known that many people in senior positions in the government sold themselves to the highest bidder and participated in capturing the state - with some beholden to multiple paymasters.
But there are also simply too many seat warmers - people who occupy positions because of their status in the ANC rather than their capabilities.
How many of us know without googling who the minister of rural development and land reform is?
Considering that land is a burning issue in the country, how is the political head of the department absent from the debate? Surely Maite Nkoana-Mashabane should be leading the conversation and communicating what is being done by her department to address the land need?
While the amendment to the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation is pending, she should be telling us how existing legislation and policies are being used to improve access to land, finalise land claims and improve productivity in land reform projects.
Even if the amendment to the constitution is passed, it will be pointless unless someone puts it to use effectively.
This is just one area where Ramaphosa's ambitions and pledges are undermined.
In as much as the president is energetic and wants to be hands-on, it is not feasible for him to be the point person on all hot-button issues. He needs capable people around him to tackle problem areas and drive his flagship projects.
The diplomatic row that erupted last week is largely as a result of the investor community trying to raise problems directly with Ramaphosa because they were being stonewalled by line-function ministers and senior officials.
There was urgency in the tone of the speech, yet you do not get the impression that the people around Ramaphosa have the same level of commitment to deal with blockages to investment and economic growth.
He is also too much of a nice guy, not able to fire people inhibiting his agenda. Malusi Gigaba had to resign as home affairs minister because the public protector recommended that the president take action against him for lying under oath. It was not because his disastrous visa regime was sabotaging tourism and investment.
There is an entire department that deals with planning, monitoring and evaluation, yet we have never heard of any minister being taken to task for not meeting their delivery targets.
What is the point of having a monitoring and evaluation mechanism when it cannot serve the purpose of keeping ministers, deputy ministers and senior officials on their toes?
The redesign and rationalisation of the government has to be done smartly to have a well-functioning, streamlined bureaucracy rather than for the state to be an employment agency for political fat cats.
In the previous administration, the cabinet grew to a ridiculous size at huge cost to the taxpayer and no real benefit to delivery.
There were also political appointments in vital institutions, such as Tom Moyane as head of the South African Revenue Service and Brian Molefe at Eskom, to serve corrupt networks by paralysing those organisations.
The restructuring of the government should take the cabinet down to a core team of essential and effective political heads, and professionalise the public service with highly skilled technocrats.
Ramaphosa has already made some good appointments, but his agenda is wholly dependent on getting the right people into key positions in the government and in his office.
The president told us in his speech to "watch this space". What he should be saying is "watch the people I put in this space".

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