HSF NDP Roundtable: Address by Minister Trevor Manuel

Minister Trevor Manuel's full speech as presented at the Helen Suzman Foundation's roundtable event on the National Development Plan, 4 November 2013.


Ladies and Gentlemen -

Thank you for the opportunity to address this evening.

It is very important that we understand the National Development Programme in respect of two views. The first is its lateral positioning. The National Planning Commission is not government. I am a member of Cabinet but the NPC comprises 25 commissioners drawn from outside of government and our role is advisory. So we are not government and we are not an NGO nor are we an independent think tank. We are positioned relative to government with a strong persuasive ability. It is very important that this never be lost sight of.

The second issue is to position the National Planning Commission longitudinally. From the perspective of struggle for democracy, the first democratic elections in 1994, the adoption of the Constitution in May 1996, the signing of the Constitution into law in December 1996, and then a series of policy issues work done with varying degrees of implementation.

The National Planning Commission is then required to take an independent view of performance of government against stated objectives in order to make comment. The big challenge for us in this regard is of course that government is complex: The Constitution describes three spheres rather than three tiers and that carries its own layers of complexity. Moreover in the schedules of the Constitution, certain functions are allocated and other functions are now carried almost by convention already and the bulk of pro-poor policies or areas that deal with poverty broadly – education, social welfare, and public health – are delivered by provinces. Many of the other functions- the provision of housing, water, electricity, roads in the built environment – are delivered by spheres other than national government. So improving on the alignment and measuring outcomes is a fundamentally important challenge.

The National Planning Commission is able to cut through a lot of the documentation and is able to have a line of sight and join the dots together. This is exceedingly important because by creating South Africa’s first ever National Planning Commission, the President has given the country an opportunity to improve on where we’ve been.

Let’s remind ourselves of the dates.

The first important date is the 11th of May 2010 when the Commission is convened for the first time. It sets about working and by early June 2011 has produced a diagnostic that lists nine immense challenges and a reminder that the broad objectives drawn from the Constitution are the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality. We raise two of those challenges as preeminent. Firstly, that too few South Africans have found employment and the employment ratios relative to almost every other country are incredibly low. Secondly, the education outcomes for the majority of Black South Africans are still suboptimal and there is a causal relationship between education and the skills set available in the labour market.

Once we had tabled the diagnostic in parliament on the 9th of June 2011, we then embarked on a process of intensive consultation including Town Hall meetings, an online “JAM” involving 10 000 people, a great deal of time on radio station and penning numerous Op Ed pieces, and we used the next period to produce the proposed Plan that we handed to the President on the 11th of November 2011. Beyond the 9 challenges we had added four additional areas .The four additional areas are safe communities, social protection, integrated rural economy and the position of South Africa in Africa and the world. Again, we were able to take the proposed Plan for wider consultation and we then handed the Plan to the President in Parliament on the 15th of August 2012.

It’s important to get a perspective on where we are now. Not of the Plan, but of all of the factors that impact on the Plan. I want to make the observation that for a whole host of reasons, the environment that we are trying to talk through implementation is especially difficult. There are three issues that are very important in this regard. The first is trust. A reminder that 24 hours after we handed the Plan to the President in Parliament, the tragic events of Marikana on the 16th of August took place. Since then, trust has broken down very badly and some of that now manifests within the police itself. We are seeing how this is coming apart. The trust between a range of NGOs and government; the breakdown of relations even within the trade union movement; the shift between NUM to AMCU; and now very importantly, the political battle within Cosatu and between Cosatu and government- all of these occurrences speak to the breakdown in trust.

This is very worrying and I can only deduce that within this environment business is battling to establish how it relates to the Plan itself. But while we are on the subject of business, we also have the difficulty of not knowing which organisation we are communicating with. There is BUSA, Business Leadership SA and then there is the Black Business Caucus. All of them believe that they have a higher level of entitlement so the trust issue is fundamentally important.

The second set of environmental concerns is the broad economics. In truth, South Africa is battling to recover from the harsh impact of the post-Lehman recession of 2008. We haven’t been able to advance in many of the areas. One of the things we had going for us even as Lehman happened was a very impressive infrastructure programme largely associated with the hosting of the FIFA 2010 World Cup. But since then, we have not been able to maintain the momentum, and in fact that infrastructure spend created its own problems of a further breakdown of trust as a result of the findings of the Competition Commission. When I look at some of the events taking place in Brazil now, and I look at our own situation, I wonder whether there isn’t an economic phenomenon called the Curse of Sepp Blatter.

The third set of environmental issues relates to our institutions. We need to construct an environment with a lot more innovation in the public service. We also need to work through a whole range of institutions – Parliament, NEDLAC, business organisations, and provincial legislatures – all of us. The way in which we communicate, the sense of being on-message and the ability to take the country along as a whole is a fundamentally important task that we are not getting to. What is very important right now is that we are able to look at the issues, not with our eye on the elections next year but in the longer term.

And so in respect of that shift from the drafting of the Plan to implementation given the proximity of the elections now, the timing could hardly be described as propitious. 

Nevertheless, a number of the elements of the Plan are being implemented and I think that in many respects we have become more aware of the fact that implementation and alignment take a while to work through. Let me share some of the examples of work that is underway with you.

The first would be something we all cry out for, and that is the transformation of basic education. Now, about a year ago, work started intensely between the ministry, department and provinces and a range of public sector bodies and it culminated in the launch of the Education Collaboration Partnership on the 16th of July 2013. This is co-chaired by Minister Angie Motshekga and Mr Sizwe Nxasana, Chief Executive Officer of FirstRand Limited. When this initiative was launched the ministry highlighted quite strong that the initiative a big instalment of implementation of the National Development Plan.

In his message of support as a representative of the NECT, General Secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, (SADTU) Mugwena Maluleke emphasised labour’s commitment to fixing education, stating that:

‘As the labour constituency we represent one of the key pillars in education. We promise today that we will do all in our powers to improve the quality of public education especially for the historically disadvantaged children and to ensure they take their rightful place in the South African society and the global arena where change is so rapid, filled with promise and simultaneously fraught with potential hazards. We do so, and I argue that teachers as a group have power of a man with a gun. It is not the power that can be made the fool, but it is the power to decide whether service or self shall be “our dominant motive in the South Africa of 1994 and thereafter...”

What everybody who is part of that process will tell you is that it took several months just to get that alignment in place, but today we see the installation of change in a number of districts allowing for learning between better performing districts and those that really battle. It is going to take some time before we see change happening at every school, and whilst the focus will frequently be on high schools if we don’t get the teaching of Maths and Science better at primary schools, high schools cannot produce results with learners who don’t have even the most basic understanding of essential concepts. The education initiative is work in progress. It’s going to take time. It’s more than announcements. It’s about changing the way in which decisions happen, it’s about empowering schools that are disempowered, and it’s a big project in of itself.

The second example of implementation, which has its roots in the diagnostic, is in the world of work. There is an important and sharp debate between the different forces. The National Assembly on Thursday last week approved the Employment Tax Incentive Bill and its now on its way to the National Council of Provinces and this will support both young people in need of employment and give very distinct attention to the Special Economic Zones (SEZs). So its work in progress, the idea that everything relating to economics and employment will be left in the bans until there is some final moment of agreement signed off I think is counteracted by the reality of the legislation and the intent of government to pursue this.

In the third example of implementation, is government’s progress in the Early Childhood Development sector. The first 5 years of a child’s life are the most critical for brain development. Studies on Early Childhood Development demonstrate the importance of Early Childhood Development in laying the groundwork for better health, emotional and cognitive development and wellbeing for a child. In additional, ensuring that every child receives the right nutritional and cognitive support is vital in breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality. When one looks at the Early Childhood Development sector, one begins to understand just how complex this issue is.

The Plan recognises the importance of Early Childhood Development, and emphasised the importance of nutritional support for pregnant and lactating moms for Early Childhood Development. We need to be able to reach these mothers through clinics and ensure that our clinics are capable of meeting their needs. Then there is nutritional support for infants. I needn’t explain to you how difficult it is to run the school nutrition programme, and the additional complexity of trying to expand nutritional support through a myriad of centres is going to be exceedingly hard. Some of this involves the Department of Health; other issues involve the Department of Social Development.

But nutritional support is not enough. Research around the world on Early Childhood Development models shows the importance of combining both nutritional and cognitive support. In Columbia, children who received the right nutrition without participating in school activities were bigger and taller, but their cognitive abilities did not improve until they entered a preschool. On the other hand, children in Turkey who received educational care by trained mothers scored higher in standardised tests on average 4, 7 and even 10 years later.

And so the Plan recognises the importance of formalising Early Childhood Development to provide the infrastructure where children can receive the cognitive support, in addition to the nutritional support. As you formalise Early Childhood Development, you need to include local authorities who are required in the schedules of the Constitution to provide the infrastructure for Early Childhood Development. There is a built-in part of the formula of transfers to local authorities but that money gets allocated to other things because there is no call from communities. Then you also need departments such as Basic Education to ensure that we construct continuity in Early Childhood Development into Grade R. You would know that in the National Development Plan we call for two years in Grade R. We don’t have much of the required infrastructure to do this so you need to look at the infrastructure needs in schools.

But it’s not just infrastructure that we need, we also need the teachers with the right skills to teach our children. So we must look at the Department of Higher Education and Training because we need to certify the training of pre-school teachers. In some countries foundation-phase teaching has higher entrance requirements than school teaching. But, as you are well aware, South Africa has an added complication of a shortage of skills. So what qualifications must Grade R instructors have to ensure that children get the necessary cognitive develop that will ensure their success in the school system? What qualifications must they have?

It’s complex.

We haven’t even touched on the fact yet that much of Early Childhood Development services are currently delivered by NGOs and so that mobilisation needs to happen. The good thing is that the NGOs and private providers of Early Childhood Development stand ready to work with government advance this most important programme.

The launch of the National School of Government speaks loudly to the commitment to building capable and developmental state. Minister Sisulu has been very committed to this action and has used exactly the same language that we’ve used in the NPC to describe why the public sector transformation is so important. The talk of entrance exams; the talk of compulsory training; the talk of new forms of accountability for the output of public servants – all of this built in and you would find very strong resonance of the work of the National Development Plan.

The fifth example of implementation is the recently launch of the Integrated Urban Development Framework document launched. It is a collaborative effort led by the Department of Cooperative Governance involving a range of other departments – Rural Development and Land Reform, Human Settlements, and the National Planning Commission is very directly involved. In fact three of our commissioners serve on the expert team, supporting the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF). There are timelines set out for advancing on the framework and very important to recognise that there is likely to be an accelerated learning opportunity. The province of Gauteng wants to be involved in piloting some of the Urban Development Framework changes because as we saw with Census 2011, there has been a huge influx of people from everywhere into Gauteng.

The last area just by way of example is of work that we are intending to do in the near future. The province of Mpumalanga has seen large transfers of land to communities. Unfortunately much of this land has ended up being taken out of productive use because while communities became the landowners there was very little support for the agricultural activities, be this in the form of working capital or other support mechanisms. And so that for us becomes a very big challenge. If we can apply the learning in Mpumalanga, it is likely to provide models could be varied and worked elsewhere. Linked to this work will be some effort to pilot a new approach to land reform as proposed in the Plan with different stakeholders each making a contribution to the success of land reform. There is a series of engagements with key stakeholders in land reform to ensure that the design of the new approach addresses some of the concerns that have been raised.

What I have raised now are 6 discrete areas of work but this is not an approach that suggests that we are working on 6 Chapters out of the 15 in the NDP and that the other 9 will happen later-all these issues cross-cut in various ways. The Planning Commission never set itself up as an alternate government, we consciously did not draft a chapter for each Ministry therefore there has to be in its nature a fair amount of cross-cutting work and we also know that once we have sufficient momentum and a new way of approaching a measurement of outputs the change is likely to happen far more speedily.

So what we have as a Planning Commission is the outlook to 2030. It is informed by a range of issues, some of them like demographic trends informed by our work with the Actuarial Society. Those demographics needs to be updated with the results of Census 2011 but that is the projection, we can and we should sharpen the focus  as we get these updates but far more important is that we try and focus on how we can implement work now and develop a learning from it.

We said in drafting the plan and in the work of the National Planning Commission since inception that we don’t want to be caught in electoral cycles. This is why we opted not to go for 5 year plans as is the trend for nations such as China and India are both busy drafting their twelfth 5 year plans. We don’t want plans determined by electoral cycles so we retain the projection over the longer period which covers 4 electoral cycles as it happens. However, we will fill out the detail in tranches of 5 years by focusing on the Medium Term Strategic Framework document. Work is already in progress to ensure that the National Development Plan will find resonance and some issues will be front-loaded and the Medium Term Strategic Framework will be shaped on that basis. And because the MTSF work is done by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, a department with executive responsibility unlike the NPC, they are getting better at developing performance measures and so that can be taken forward as well.

I want to conclude by saying that whereas the work on the diagnostic provided a coherent narrative, the next phase of the Plan still lends itself to a kind of coherent narrative. The narrative on implementation is a lot harder. What the Planning Commission is not doing is creating new policies – although there might be some areas we flag or give attention to- we have tried to join up a range of policies in areas. The NPC is not an alternative government, it does not comprise of new people. What is very important about the Plan as well is that it’s not set there for government and the rest of society is a spectator. It is a national plan, not a government plan therefore involvement becomes fundamentally important. What we need to focus on is our ability to create new institutions and frameworks for implementation and to find ways of supporting the manner in which we can innovate in the public sector.