NOMPU SIZIBA: Members of the business fraternity have congratulated the Independent Electoral Commission on a job well done in running the 2019 national elections. As we know, the ANC won the national vote by 57.5% – with the DA remaining the official opposition, having captured 20.77% of the national vote, while the EFF made significant strides by winning 10.79% of the national vote, compared to 6.35% in the 2014 election. So where to now?
Well, there is a lot of work to be done. The country needs economic growth. It also needs good leadership and strong, efficient government. Speculation is rife as to the composition of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet, which should be announced soon after May 25, after the president has been sworn into power.
Well, to give us her view on where to next, I’m joined on the line by Tanya Cohen, the CEO at Business Unity South Africa, or Busa. Tanya, the speculation is rife about the type of cabinet Mr Ramaphosa will select. What qualities must the new cabinet have, and what type of consolidation could we expect in government departments as it’s been rumoured that he is going to be trimming down the number of ministries?
TANYA COHEN: I think we would certainly support a more compact cabinet. We think that’s conducive to speedier decision-making and higher levels of alignment, and it will certainly aid in terms of implementation. That is something that as a business community we are in favour of. In terms of the capabilities of cabinet ministers, I think – and this doesn’t start only with cabinet ministers; I think the same would apply to the provincial heads, as well as to directors-general and other key staff within government – that we want to see people that are capable, that are experienced, and whose integrity is beyond doubt.
NOMPU SIZIBA: In terms of departments that may be got rid of altogether, or consolidated into another, what are your expectations?
TANYA COHEN: I think certainly around the economic areas there are a number of different ministries currently that operate in that space. There is certainly an opportunity there to have a more aligned, streamlined structure. So that is one area. And I think that we need to look, for example, at education to see whether it’s appropriate to be splitting higher and basic education. Those are some of the key areas.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Indeed. In wrapping up matters at the IEC on Saturday, President Ramaphosa said that now was the time to begin working, and that he would accept no excuses from his ministers and other senior government officials. Do you expect that we are going to see a more aggressive president this time around, as he seeks to get things done?
TANYA COHEN: We certainly want to see bold and decisive action on priority areas. We think it’s necessary. The economy is not performing like it should, and we really do need to put in place some concrete areas of progress, including policy and how the country addresses state-owned enterprises, to really shift the economic trajectory considerably.
NOMPU SIZIBA: In terms of state-owned enterprises, of course we know the elephant in the room when we talk about those is Eskom. We know that there has been an official announcement about it being split into three. So what? Do you think more needs to be done? What do you expect, as the private sector, to happen in Eskom for it to be more efficient, leaner and meaner?
TANYA COHEN: I think we don’t underestimate how much work has to be done in this regard. But certainly the unbundling into three different units we think will bring greater efficiencies and focus in the organisation, and it will enable the entity to manage its operations in a far better way than it has been. It will also enable the entity to raise the necessary financing. So that is something that needs to happen and we do think that it needs to be prioritised.
NOMPU SIZIBA: A day in politics can be long, but a five-year term, which is the period that the new executive will have to execute their mandate, is very short. What are the key things a new government must get on with, with zeal, for us to see material improvements by the end of the term?
TANYA COHEN: I think for us that is around the restructuring of the state-owned enterprises and making sure they operate efficiently, focusing on Eskom. It is around getting the budget under control and our spending. And it is certainly around having a more coherent and focused and aligned policy framework.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Business always bangs on about too much red tape in South Africa. What issues are you referring to and, with the political will, do you think these are issues that can easily be resolved in order to assist business to do its work and create jobs?
TANYA COHEN: Not necessarily easily resolved, but it’s absolutely necessary that we do resolve them – particularly if we look at the constraints on small businesses. We see that they are drowning in terms of red tape and administration, starting at the registration of businesses, in terms of tax, in terms of how they administer basic, basic processes, and how they get licences. And the regulatory compliance barriers that are there for small businesses are really disproportionate relative to other businesses. So we think there is a lot of work that can be done in terms of easing up the load on small businesses, freeing them up to operate and to be able to thrive and grow and contribute to the economy.
NOMPU SIZIBA: One of the things that’s been the usual narrative around South Africa has been policy uncertainty. We know that President Ramaphosa did try to make strides in trying to mitigate that perception. What do you think is outstanding now that must be sorted in order for people or business to feel confident in investing in South Africa?
TANYA COHEN: There are a number of key policy areas that have been left hanging from the administration that really need to be resolved very, very soon. That isn’t underestimating the complexity of those policy areas. But if we look, for example, at the Integrated Energy Plan and the Integrated Resource Plan, we need to have those in place as a framework for the energy sector. We need to ensure that the carbon tax, which is about to be implemented, is properly aligned to other pieces of legislation and requirements in the economy. So energy is one big area of focus.
Another is health. We know that we have been speaking as a country about national health and the importance of providing health services to the citizens of the country, but our policy framework is just not fit-for-purpose.
Similarly we need to look at our skills landscape and ask how it is actually positioning us for the fourth industrial revolution, and how it is going to serve that so that it provides us with the individuals and the candidates and the people with the skills that are going to take business forward for the future and the country.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Given the relations that have been nurtured between business and government over the last 18 months or so, do you think you guys are in a good enough place in being able to partner, whether it be through talks, brainstorming around policy and so on, or actual project work in ensuring that real economic growth becomes a reality for South Africa?
TANYA COHEN: I think that there has certainly been progress in that regard. But it needs to now move into a much more structured format so that we can really leverage the opportunities that are there. I think business stands ready and wants to partner with government, not only in terms of lending its expertise and its inputs on policy frameworks, but in initiatives as well, in terms of how to mobilise investments, for example, and the Infrastructure Fund. What that needs is a structured engagement framework so that businesses from all sectors and segments can participate and engage.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Our thanks to Busa CEO Tanya Cohen.