OP-ED Opinions 

News24.com | Make job creators the most respected people in the country, Mr President

2019-05-19 09:00

The president must introduce measures to change the attitudes of all officials who run public institutions with direct and indirect influence on the economy to have a focus on job creation, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

Cyril Ramaphosa is facing unprecedented pressure. It comes from a good place. South
Africans want their country to progress. They are tired of being let down by
politicians with questionable patriotic credentials.

it is that, never before in our 25-year history as a democracy a president has faced
nation-wide concerns about the composition of his cabinet. South Africans have
become fully aware that good governance – or lack of it – starts with the
president and the choices he makes.

this is Ramaphosa’s first big test. Will he heed the call to set a high ethical
tone for the next five years of his administration or will he try to be Mr Nice
towards the ethically challenged?

second test he faces is whether he can reorient the entire state to be a
machinery focused towards a major national priority: creating jobs.

regard to good governance, public concern is such that many ordinary citizens can
easily draw up a cabinet that specifically excludes well-known individuals with
a reputation of having held public office with contempt.

no longer discuss corruption and unethical conduct in abstract terms. These
ills have faces. They have symbols in the form of some well-known members of Parliament
and ministers. Corruption and unethical behaviour do not fall mysteriously from
an unknown hell.

appointments are a direct expression of the president’s vision about many
things, not least his commitment to fighting corruption and getting rid of
unethical practices in government. If there is one place where the president’s
hands are far from being tied, it is the selection of Cabinet.

promising in the ANC manifesto and in many election speeches that he would
cleanse the country of corruption, unethical conduct, state capture and
incompetency, Ramaphosa is now facing the first test of his public commitment.

he doesn’t turn his words into action, he would have failed this significant
test. The result of the failure would be public dismay at his leadership at
inception. Citizens will immediately write off the next five years as wasted and
wait with exasperation for the next elections.

the fact that we have been through a lot in the last decade, why would
Ramaphosa want to subject the country to a collective trauma at the start of
his administration? What would we make of his noble “New Dawn” and “Thuma
Mina” campaigns through which he sought to reset society’s moral compass? He
surely cannot afford to turn his promise into electoral hot air.

appointing a group of ethically sound Cabinet ministers, Ramaphosa must dust
off former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s famous “Unsolicited
Donations” report. The report was an outcome of an investigation into the conduct
of former communications minister Dina Pule who was accused of using public
funds for her personal benefit.

not only asked then president Jacob Zuma to take action against Pule, making
her the first and the last minister to be disciplined. Madonsela also
recommended ways to prevent ethical lapses by national ministers and their
provincial counterparts. She ordered the minister of public service and
administration to implement the following remedial actions:

• Urgently consider subjecting Cabinet ministers and provincial
MECs to an ethics seminar;

• ensure that all new ministers attend an ethics seminar within two months of
assuming office;

• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is turned into a pocket booklet to be
provided to all Cabinet ministers on assumption of office; and

• ensure that the Executive Ethics Code is captured in posters to be placed in
all executive offices.

The recommendations were not implemented. For Ramaphosa’s New Dawn
to make sense he must not only appoint a Cabinet with strong ethical
credentials, but he must subject them to the process prescribed by Madonsela.
The report’s recommendations were never subject to judicial review. They still

On the second
challenge of job creation, Ramaphosa should immediately introduce measures to
change the attitudes of all officials who run public institutions with direct and
indirect influence on the economy to have a focus on job creation.

The state cannot
create jobs. As things stand it is already bloated. But the private sector can
if the regulatory environment allows. Officials of government departments and
other state institutions involved in the issuing of licenses and providing
regulatory oversight of private sector initiatives should undergo a mindset
change that recognises unemployment as a national emergency.

From ministers
who often meet business leaders to front-desk clerks and other officials who
are recipients of business license applications – all should undergo a mindset
shift attuned to growing the economy and creating jobs. No rhetoric will create
jobs. Actions will.

Job creators should be the most respected people in the
country. The government
should bend over backwards to make it easy for them to create jobs in an
environment of fair labour practices and inclusive growth. For as long as we
have investors who feel that they have to beg government officials to plough
their money into the country, we will not create jobs. The crippling thing called
policy uncertainty should come to an end as soon as possible.

South Africa is
not the only country looking for investments to create jobs. There is a tough
global competition. But, are politicians and front-desk officials in all
government departments and state institutions aware that how they respond to
business applications or inquiries is a significant part of this competition?

Many countries
are luring investors based in South Africa. For example, each time there is
load shedding, a South African-based company that runs smelters would receive
hundreds of calls from other countries with reliable and cheap energy luring
them to locate their plants there. It’s a tough competition to get and keep investors.

The decline in
investment and employment rates notwithstanding, South Africa’s potential
suggests that not everyone in government understands that the investor is king.
It’s time Ramaphosa changed this.

Having held
investment conferences, it’s time he and a group of competent ministers
undertook a road show and met all companies that have potential to create jobs.
They must enquire about state-imposed constraints and tailor-make solutions for
them. Every gesture towards encouraging investment and job creation should

 – Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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