Report back: The NDP Roundtable

This brief provides a summary of the HSF’s recent roundtable on the National Development Plan.
Since being endorsed by the ANC as a ‘platform for unified action’, debate surrounding various elements of the National Development Plan (NDP) has intensified.  On 4 November 2013, The Helen Suzman Foundation, in association with the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, hosted a roundtable discussion on the NDP. The keynote speaker was former Finance Minister and Minister in Presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Trevor Manuel. He was joined by research fellows of the Helen Suzman Foundation Aubrey Matshiqi and Alex van den Heever and Chief Executive Officer of Pan-African Holdings, Iraj Abedian.

Opening Address

Mr Manuel opened the discussion by outlining the nature and composition of the NPC and the environment in which it operates. This touched briefly on the relationship between the NPC and cabinet, drawing attention the unique position the NPC occupies within government.  Being independent of cabinet permits the NCP to engage with institutions across all spheres of government on a range of diverse issues. This allows for a holistic approach to development issues and helps ensure that the NPC does not suffer from the “institutional myopia” often associated with government departments. Its separation from government facilitates a longitudinal understanding of key development issues and puts the NPC in a position to engage directly with reform policy, without being subject to certain institutional and political constraints. 
Mr Manuel went on to mention nine challenges addressed by the NDP, with a particular focus on issues related to employment and education. He also took time to outline some of the environmental challenges to the implementation of the NDP. One of the difficulties identified was a profound lack of trust between different sectors of South African society. The high levels of distrust have obstructed dialogue on a number of key issues, and continue to create an adversarial relationship between negotiating parties in South Africa. This has given rise to a poor relationship between government and citizenry, as well as between the public and private sectors. The lack of trust remains one of the biggest obstacles to broad-based campaigns of transformation such as the NDP. Reform initiatives of this nature require cooperation between various partners, and until certain levels of trust and cooperation are reached, implementation of the NDP is going to remain particularly challenging.
The global financial situation and sluggish economic growth in South Africa were also identified as factors affecting the implementation of the NDP. The global economic slowdown has allowed for less cooperative engagement with international partners and made it increasingly difficult to align the objectives of the NDP with global development agendas. These problems have been compounded by slower than expected economic growth in South Africa which has given rise to a domestic environment that is not conducive to large scale economic reform.
Finally, Mr Manuel identified the capacity of South African institutions as a factor obstructing the efficient implementation of the NDP. Weak intuitions in both the public and private sector have impeded NDP reform initiatives in a number of key areas. The implementation mechanisms that have been established lack an effective institutional framework within which to operate, and have not been able to gain the traction initially hoped for.
After outlining some of the environmental challenges facing the NDP, Mr Manuel went on to discuss some recent examples of successful implementation. These included:
  • The successful launch of the National Collaborative Education Partnership in July 2013.
  • The progress made in implementing the Early Childhood Development initiative
  • The recently passed Employment Tax Incentive Bill
  • The progress being made by the Integrated Urban Development Framework in addressing land reform as a developmental issue.
  • The focus on creating a capable developmental state through the National School of Government.
The address was intended to give the audience and panellists an indication of how the NDP has progressed since its inception, and outline some of the difficulties currently being experienced. Following the address, the panellists were given an opportunity to discuss various elements of the NDP in more detail and seek clarification on any issues they may have identified.


The first panellist to engage Mr Manuel was Aubrey Matshiqi. Mr Matshiqi suggested that the NDP in its current form represents a ‘broad vision’ for the future of South Africa rather than a ‘plan of action.’ He pointed out that most of the technical details crucial to the Plan’s implementation are yet to be established and that the Plan lacks sufficient detail as to the means by which certain goals are to be achieved. Concerns were raised that the current approach of piecemeal implementation may cause conflict between various sectors of society. Implementing certain sections of the Plan before others will provide certain parties with an opportunity to advance narrow interests and may upset the equitable balance the Plan seeks to achieve. Following from this, a question was raised regarding the location of the of the NDP within government. Mr Matshiqi enquired as to where the intuitional base of the NDP is going to be located and how this may affect its implementation.
Alex van den Heever focussed his discussion on two areas in urgent need of reform. Professor van den Heever argued that the NDP does not provide the basis of a plan capable of addressing systemic issues related to Health Care and Social protection. The dysfunctional state of Health Care and Social Security systems in South Africa is largely due to a deeply fragmented institutional and policy framework. He suggested that these problems need to be addressed at a level of detail not provided for by the NPD. The failure to provide for systemic reform in these key areas leaves the broader objectives of the plan unattainable.  Mr Manuel was asked how the NDP proposed to address the institutional framework currently underlying health care and social security systems. 
The final line of enquiry was provided by Iraj Abedian. Dr Abedian identified the NDP’s failure to provide an explicit set of common national values as an area of concern. Mr Abedian argued that the prospects of developing nations depend, to a large extent, on the type of value system adopted by society. These ‘national values’ form the basis of dialogue and underpin cooperative efforts between various actors within society. History shows that extractive governments do not last, and it was suggested that South Africa needs to be more aware of the dangers associated with an extractive culture among the political elite. Any long term development plan such as the NDP should include a set of values aimed at ensuring commercial, social and political interaction does not take place in a valueless environment. Mr Manuel was asked whether the NDP was capable of addressing these concerns.


Mr Manuel pointed out that the NDP is more than just a broad vision of the future but that its implementation needs to take place in stages. In the medium term, strategies need to be formed and institutional foundations developed, before narrow technical detail can be established and implemented. Mr Manuel made it clear that the lack of technical details in certain areas does not render the entire plan incapable of implementation. While the implementation of broad based reform will always be a challenging, the various interests of different sectors of society are capable of being balanced throughout a progressive implementation. In response to the specific questions about the location of the plan within government, Mr Manuel said that the intuitional base of the NDP will rest in the Presidency.
As regards to the points raised by Professor van den Heever, Mr Manuel conceded that the plan lacked certain technical details crucial to its implementation. He maintained that the NDP is designed to provide an overarching structure for broad based reform and was never the intended to address narrow technical concerns during the early stages of implementation. As the plan develops, various technical details can be established as they become required.
In response to the issues raised by Dr Abedian, Mr Manuel agreed that a national set of norms is essential to the efficient functioning of any society. It was, however suggested that the Constitution provides a ready source of national values and offers a preferable basis for engagement with issues of this nature. It was suggested that making South Africans more familiar with the values expressed in the Bill of Rights and pre-amble to the Constitution would be a better way of establishing a set of national values, than attempting to engage with these issues in economic development plans.  
Minister Manuel's full-speech can be viewed HERE 
Luke von der Heyde