The South African government is committed to rebuilding state capability destroyed by state capture.
This goal was on Thursday outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa during a National School of Government (NSG) Master Class for Members of the Executive, Heads of Departments and senior leaders from the local government sphere, the legislative sector and organs of state.
The Master Class was also addressed by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, who is a world-renowned economist and member of South Africa’s Presidential Economic Advisory Council.
Responding to Mazzucato’s address, President Ramaphosa said the South African government was faced with the mammoth task of implementing economic reforms that would benefit all citizens.
In dealing with the realities of South Africa’s own situation, much-needed state capability has been weakened by state capture.
“We see it, we don’t even need to explain it in so many words,” he said.
He said many countries faced with similar predicaments often resorted to “outside help” in the form of consultants. This, he said, meant the state’s capability had been weakened.
“That happens to be the problem here as well and we’ve seen how outsourcing has also weakened our state and how those entities we tended to outsource to were themselves captured and deeply involved in the challenges that we had to face of corruption,” said President Ramaphosa.
Corruption destroyed the state’s ability to get things done.
“Through that, the financial capability was weakened. There was overpricing, the skills that we had within the state started migrating outside of the state and then acted as consultants. The accountability and discipline that is needed immediately just goes down and there is a loss of focus and the focus is then around just how we manage contracts.
“In a way, in some areas of the state we became contract managers and managing and dishing out tenders. The drive was about another objective that we sought to address, which is empowering black entrepreneurs so they can do business with government. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“We lost purpose, it got diluted. We are addressing it because we’ve become acutely aware of it and (this session) helps us better understand what has happened to us and how we navigate through,” said the President.
He said the country has to redesign policy in order to approach what government does in a different way.
To achieve this, the state has to get capability back and attract talent. Therefore, government was embarking on an extensive drive to attract more qualified people into its machinery.
“People should not be brought in just because they know so-and-so, they are well-connected with so-and-so”.
“We want to focus on professionalising the public service, bringing in more qualified young people,… Part of that is also with the school of government,” he said.
To further improve government effectiveness, measures have been put in place to ensure that all levels of government work in synergy. In this regard, government in 2019 launched the district development model to ensure that government at all levels had one plan.
South African economy
During the event, President bemoaned what he termed as the financialisation of the South African economy.
“We are no longer investing in the productive side of the economy, we’re not focusing on industrialisation, manufacturing – we’re just focusing on the financial sector. And they’re growing in bounds but quite a lot of that money is in assets that we see producing jobs,” he said.
He emphasised that South Africans needed to build a more inclusive economy that was “people-centred”.
“We need to engage our people in an overarching way. We need durable partnerships, our DNA is about collaboration, working together. We need citizen engagement on things such as budgeting,” he said.
“We need the citizenry to understand the structure of our budget so that it is not just the Minister of Finance who understands it. They need to understand both sides: revenue and expenditure and understand that at times you have to make choices.”