Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel’s plan for the state to hire workers on infrastructure “maintenance” projects would do nothing to stop the loss of jobs “caused by his own government”, DA spokesman Michael Cardo said in a statement.
Earlier this week, the Quarterly Labour Force Survey revealed that the number of unemployed people increased by 321,000 from 4.9 million to 5.2 million in the first six months of 2015. “The mining and manufacturing sectors are hemorrhaging jobs apace.
“Yet the best minister Patel can do in the face of this bloodbath is to suggest that every government department should employ more people to maintain roads, water infrastructure, schools, and hospitals,” he said.
After the Cabinet lekgotla on Friday, Patel said: “When you fix roads and potholes, and [ensure] that broken windows at schools and doors at hospitals are fixed quickly and efficiently, you create an enormous number of jobs.”
Cardo said this kind of “statist sophistry only serves to trumpet the minister’s economic illiteracy. If he thinks fixing potholes is going to create millions of jobs, he is delusional”. Patel wanted to use public money to create jobs artificially.
Instead, government should be empowering the private sector to create real jobs so that more public money could be spent on state services. Patel was also reported as saying that the focus would be on maintenance to ensure that “we don’t just build new infrastructure”.
This marked a change in tune, Cardo said. Patel was usually at pains to talk up government’s R4 trillion plan for new infrastructure, even though “there is precious little evidence of it”.
“Now there seems to be a shift in emphasis towards maintenance. Perhaps that is a tacit acknowledgement that the new infrastructure plan is floundering,” Cardo said. The time had come for government to show some tangible results from its infrastructure spend.
“More urgently, it needs to come up with a serious plan to stem the jobs bloodbath, instead of tinkering at the edges with potholes and broken windows,” he said.