Top economist Raymond Parsons says the hesitation and waiting must end now that the ANC has been re-elected in this month’s national poll, and that moves to boost the economy must be unleashed.
He was addressing the media at the Johannesburg HQ of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), in a discussion on the economic prospects for President Zuma’s second term.
Parsons, who is a former BUSA Deputy CEO, said that there is now a degree of certainty following the election, and that while business had been in a holding pattern, the National Development Plan (NDP) must now be implemented.
He called for “an implementation plan, with timelines” to move from strategy to action.
“We want to see the government hitting the ground running,” said Parsons.
He suggested that government could triple the size of the economy in the 16 years to 2030 with a successful economic strategy, and “that is a prize worth seeking.”
He claimed the NDP would lead to a more predictable and certain policy network, and so business must make sure the NDP will prevail.
He said business must become more proactive, to influence government well in advance of policy formation, as opposed to reacting after the event.
And he also called for more business unity among the country’s different business groupings, “with one telephone number for government to call.”
Parsons suggested that the NDP has identified lack of trust as a serious constraint, and said that closing the trust deficit is going to be a “top priority” for business.
Parsons questioned whether the ANC’s tripartite alliance with partners COSATU and the Communist Party has run its course. He suggested ANC policy is “diluted” through this alliance. And he wondered whether the economic cost of the alliance now outweighs its political benefits…
Theo Venter from the NWU University Business School said at the presentation that it is unlikely Zuma will serve a full five year term in office, but suggested that he is not likely to leave office soon.
He said the ANC will need time to regroup and see where it is heading, and the ANC will take a decision to “protect the dignity of the man” – maybe by saying his health is poor.
“I don’t see that happening early,” he said.
Parsons suggested that Jacob Zuma’s legacy should be an economic turnaround, and that business should support this.
Responding to Parsons’ comments on the tripartite alliance, Venter suggested that the problems in SA education will never be resolved until the strong link between government and the unions is broken.
BUSA’s acting CEO Cas Coovadia concluded that “we talk a hell of a lot in SA”, but there has been too little discussion on the “hard issues”. He said business should take the lead.
Hard issues that worry him include corruption, labour issues, inequality, and the business environment – with concerns such as FDI, employment, education and SMEs.
He also expressed concern about service delivery.
He noted there is resentment about the wide gap between basic pay in SA and executive salaries, and said this must be discussed.
Coovadia agreed with Parsons on the need for greater unity, and said there needs to be a common agenda for business – and added that he is not interested in “turf issues”. He said BUSA itself must concentrate on strategic issues, leaving matters like trade visits to other business organisations.
He also called for reform of NEDLAC – the forum which brings together business, labour and government.
The SA economy did pretty well until Jacob Zuma came to power, and business may be a tad optimistic in suggesting that the NDP will solve much. Certainly, the SA institute of Race Relations has claimed, with some credibility that its ambitious goals just cannot be funded. However, there is every reason to support a more robust dialogue between business and government. One indication of the President’s willingness to boost the SA economy will come when he announces his new Cabinet. The same old faces are likely to repeat the same old mistakes.
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