The last nine years of South Africa’s democracy have been the most difficult of the post-apartheid project. The government of former President Jacob Zuma achieved what opposition parties had always struggled to achieve; to successfully raise the view that the African National Congress suffered from a competence deficit in dealing with matters of state.
Nowhere is this becoming more apparent than in the energy-sapping, shock-inducing revelations tumbling out of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. Suddenly, South Africans of all ages and races are asking themselves difficult questions about the level of trust they have invested in the party. Even its own members have caught a serious dose of “we’ve been lied to”. Denials by the party of the extent of its knowledge about the shenanigans have done very little to assuage feelings of betrayal in those who remain loyal to the party.
One of the more regressive outcomes of President Jacob Zuma’s years in government is the extent to which his government arrogated to itself the exclusive power to make policy at the exclusion of affected stakeholders. Even the introduction of a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System in 2015 has done very little to embed common sense into the policy making space. There is a plethora of laws and regulations which government passed despite loud objections by affected stakeholders, only for the very same government to have to change course after the fact.
Chief among these is the introduction of the now-to-be-scrapped visa regulations which the Department of Home Affairs under Malusi Gigaba saw fit to ram through in 2014 despite very loud objections from the tourism sector. Even objections by the department of tourism fell on deaf ears as the home affairs department took it upon itself to parade its superior knowledge of the problems afflicting the country, without any due regard for what the proposed solutions would mean for the tourism sector.
Four years later, South Africa is forced to change course and relax the not-so-smart aspects of these regulations. After all, travellers go to places that are welcoming. Though probably unquantifiable at this stage, these regulations have left South Africa out of the booming global tourism space at a time when its economy needs every cent to respond to growing demands on the fiscus.
Another disaster is the Mining Charter. The less said about this the better. All of us surely regard this as a dumbfounding exercise in policy making. Similarly, the withdrawal of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act is another example, yet again, of the wrong-headed approach that government seems to regard as paramount in policy making.
Currently efforts are under way to repeal the Tobacco Products Control Act 83 of 1993 with the introduction of a Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Bill. The Socio-Economic Impact Assessment report on the bill makes clear that the government consulted 13 stakeholders, excluding tobacco farmers, spaza shop owners and taverners. Perhaps their views are not important enough. Perhaps only the interests of large corporates are worth considering, despite the fact these sectors derive substantial revenue from the tobacco business.
On the other hand, government is intent on amending the Liquor Act by placing restrictions on the sale of alcohol to people under 21 and restrict advertising to the hours when nobody is watching television. All of this is done in the name of public health policy and to keep South Africans from being exposed to information about products they already consume.
In a way, government is telling South Africans that it knows what is good for them and is willing to sacrifice livelihoods to achieve its narrowly defined health objectives. Of course, public health concerns are legitimate in every respect. However, this legitimacy can never be construed to confer on government the right to make policy which is at odds with common sense through disregarding legitimate stakeholder concerns.
Cyril ‘#ThumaMina’ Ramaphosa has made it a hallmark of his presidency thus far to foreground stakeholder dialogue and consultations with affected stakeholders in dealing with important policy matters. The appointment of an advisory panel is indicative of this. The withdrawal of the Mining Charter and the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Development Act is also confirmation of this.
However, he will need to be very attentive during Cabinet discussions on policy initiatives, unlike his predecessor who seems not to have bothered himself too much with details. He also needs to strengthen the Government Cluster system to ensure that proposed policies have undergone a rigorous assessment by all government departments before they are put before Cabinet. One can only conclude that group think has seeped into policy making, thus allowing for some ill-conceived policy proposals to be adopted by Cabinet and make their way to Parliament without fundamental weaknesses being eradicated at the conceptual stages.
Further, government needs to strengthen the role of bureaucrats in policy-making. South Africa’s policy-making capability has been hollowed in the past because of political principals defining policy objectives in a vacuum and without consideration of real-life realities.
The culture of “government knows best” may have welded itself on the fabric of policy-making, to the detriment of participative forms. Failure to deal with this will result in more bills being withdrawn or struck down by the judiciary for some or other lack of robustness and compliance. DM