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Government is more transparent than you think

19 June 2009 Gareth Stokes
Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

Two months have passed since South Africans went to the polls to indicate their preference for national government. The African National Congress (ANC) emerged as the people’s choice and their president, Mr Jacob Zuma was subsequently inaugurated as the P

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The benefits of transparent government

We’re talking politics in today’s feature article because every business should concern itself with political developments. Political awareness is of particular importance for businesses in the highly regulated financial services industry. Government proposals can radically change the environment in which your business operates. We challenge you to think about the major changes that have taken place in the industry over the last decade or so, and then name one that wasn’t rooted in government policy! The Financial Services and Intermediary Services (FAIS) Act 2004 triggered an avalanche of business practice adjustments at all stakeholders in the financial services space, for example.

Although many of us complain about government policy and policy implementation strategies – and it’s our right to do so – we should be grateful for the transparency and freedom of speech our constitution guarantees. Any South African citizen with access to the Internet can visit a government ministry website and view policy documents, white papers, national budgets, draft legislation, promulgated legislation and a range of other information. National Treasury’s website is a case in point. Individuals and companies have unfettered access to policy direction and ample opportunity to get involved in its design should they have any objections to it.

What can we expect over the next five years?

No business should implement its strategy without due consideration of government policy. So, what does government have in store for business over the next five years? According to Zuma, “the fight against poverty remains the cornerstone of government’s focus.” This fight will take place in the 10 priority areas that form part of government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (2009 to 2014). The country will undoubtedly take a few more steps along the path to a fully-fledged developmental while Zuma is in power.

In light of the difficult economic conditions government will engage industry and trade unions to minimise the impact of job losses on the economy. Measures would include training layoffs, increased CCMA mediation where retrenchments loom, IDC funding for companies in distress and the identification of the “automobile, chemicals, metal fabrication, tourism, clothing and textiles [and] forestry sectors as lead sectors in the economy. This means business will be under pressure to maintain employment levels despite recessionary forces. If your business plan calls for massive retrenchments you may have to rethink.

Business is going to have to carry the cost of many of government’s promises. Decent work and sustainable livelihoods isn’t something one can conjure out of thin air. Higher wages and additional employment opportunities will place business margins under severe pressure. And business is going to have to find funds to assist employees when government’s much talked about National Social Security System is implemented, not to mention the cost of the pending National Health Insurance.

Redress of past imbalances always on the table

Government remains committed to addressing past imbalances and creating a truly inclusive economy. Zuma said that government would “utilise state levers such as procurement, licensing and financial support to assist small and medium enterprises as well as to promote the implementation of broad-based black economic empowerment and affirmative action policies.” There’s no excuse – after 15 years of consistent government policy – for any business operating in South Africa to be behind the employment equity curve. If corporate South Africa can lambaste Eskom for neglecting its long-term planning responsibilities, government should be allowed to take them to task for failing to reach employment equity targets. A decade-and-a-half is enough time to identify, train and deploy any number of ‘three-year degree’ staff.

Zuma appreciates the challenges presented by the country’s skills shortage. He mentioned “education” no less than eight times in his speech, and announced a range of initiatives to further education across all sectors of the economy – across geographic regions – and especially among the poor and unskilled. “The Further Education and Training sector with its 50 colleges and 160 campuses nationally will be the primary site for skills development training,” said Zuma, adding that access to higher education for the poor would be improved.

“Working for reconciliation and unity will remain important as we move forward,” said Zuma. He urged all government employees to act prudently through the current economic crisis. And in a refreshing call from a South African head of state he declared: “No wastage, no rollovers of funds, every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully!” We liked his repeated call for accountability from senior public sector staff and hope he takes swift action against serial under performers throughout his term.

Editor’s thoughts:
We agree with the political analysts who commented on the lack of detail in the President’s State of the Nation address. At the same time we acknowledge that the speech serves as a broad overview of the economy and government policy. The flesh that hangs on the State of the Nation skeleton will come from the various ministries and government departments over the next five years. Read the President’s speech  and let us know if you think government is on the right track. Add your comments below, or send them to gareth@fanews.co.za

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