In his first letter to the nation in more than a month, President Cyril Ramaphosa was in a reflective mood about the decade ahead.
He said that the festive break had offered an opportunity to “reflect on our plans for the year ahead but also to think deeply about the challenges that confront us”.
The president argued that the most pressing challenge was the need to build a capable state.
“This is a task that does not capture the imagination of most people, yet it is essential to everything we want to achieve.”
His trip to Kimberley and other towns in the Northern Cape for the ANC’s 108th birthday celebrations had apparently brought home to him that the capacity of government needed to improve if people’s lives were to be bettered.
“It was disheartening to see that, despite progress in many areas, there were several glaring instances of service delivery failures. Many of the places we visited struggle to provide social infrastructure and services simply because they have such a small revenue base. But in some cases, elected officials and public servants have neglected their responsibilities. A common feature in most of these towns, which is evident throughout all spheres of government, is that the state often lacks the necessary capacity to adequately meet people’s needs.
“As public representatives and civil servants we derive our legitimacy from our ability to act professionally as we serve the public and manage state resources to the benefit of the public. We also need to ensure that we embody the Batho Pele principles. Putting people first. It is through such an approach that we can have a state that places people and their needs at the centre.
“Yet, the achievement of such a state is undermined by weak implementation. Poor coordination and alignment between departments and lack of effective oversight has meant that policies and programmes have not had the necessary impact on people’s lives.”
He said his administration had therefore prioritised the task of building a capable state.
“Much of this work happens behind the scenes, ensuring that policies are aligned, processes are streamlined, technology is effectively deployed, budgets are adhered to and programmes are properly monitored and evaluated.
“A capable state starts with the people who work in it. Officials and managers must possess the right financial and technical skills and other expertise. We are committed to end the practice of poorly qualified individuals being parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage. There should be consequences for all those in the public service who do not do their work.
“Through the ongoing and focused training of civil servants, the National School of Government will be playing a greater role in providing guidance for career development.
“A capable state also means that state-owned enterprises need to fulfil their mandates effectively and add value to the economy. State companies that cannot deliver services – such as Eskom during load-shedding – or that require continual bailouts – such as SAA – diminish the capacity of the state. That is why a major focus of our work this year is to restore our SOEs to health. We will do this by appointing experienced and qualified boards and managers. We will be clarifying their mandates, and give them scope to execute those mandates.”
He said his administration had introduced the “innovation” known as the district-based delivery model and expanded on the practicalities of this model.
“This way of working is a departure from the top-down approach to the provision of services and will ensure that no district in our country is left behind. It is a break from the ‘silo’ approach, where different parts of government operate separately from each other.”
He disputed, however, that the state was already dysfunctional – a criticism that has become pervasive from many commentators.
“None of this will happen overnight. Much of the work will not be immediately apparent.
“But as we make progress, people will notice that government does things faster.
“Already, for example, we have drastically reduced the time it takes to get a passport or receive a water licence. As we continue to improve, people will notice less interruption of services, more roads being built, infrastructure better maintained, more businesses opening up and more jobs being created. Those who follow such things, will notice that government audit outcomes are improving, money is being better used and properly accounted for.”
He called on all citizens to get involved.
“We must all participate in school governing bodies, ward committees and community policing forums. It is on citizens that government will rely to advise us on the standards of public services in communities. It is on you that we depend to hold those who are failing you to account.
“Where government needs help, we should be prepared to draw on the skills, expertise and resources of the private sector and civil society. If we all work together to build a more capable and developmental state, we will be that much closer to realising the South Africa that we all want.”
A few weeks ago we celebrated the start of a new year and a new decade. This gave us an opportunity to reflect on our plans for the year ahead but also to think deeply about the challenges that confront us. https://t.co/jRCpeSoC7s pic.twitter.com/caIjRiP6fd
— Cyril Ramaphosa ???????? (@CyrilRamaphosa) January 20, 2020
(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)