MMUSI MAIMANE: Reordering the cabinet will help us avoid the dark abyss
Teetering on the brink of disaster, the country needs to rethink how departments are structured
Cyril Ramaphosa’s swearing in as SA president marks a potential new beginning for our country. I congratulate him and wish him well. If he is genuine about reforming the economy for investment, growth and jobs, he will have the DA’s full support.
Urgent reform is now critical. Ramaphosa has a window of opportunity, a honeymoon period to administer the bitter pills that can arrest our slide and set us on course for sustained progress. Failure to undertake the necessary changes will lead to a ratings downgrade to junk status, bankruptcy and widespread unnecessary suffering.
Ramaphosa needs to use the opportunity to be honest with the nation about the structural reform SA needs to reverse our decline and ensure long-term success. He should explain to people why populist solutions, no matter how attractive they may appear, will ultimately lead to SA’s downfall, as they have done in Zimbabwe, Venezuela and elsewhere.
Performance must be measured by falling unemployment and poverty rates, steady improvements in real education outcomes, increased life expectancy, reduced crime rates, and a rolling back of national debt.
Here are some key cabinet changes that would signal a commitment to the reforms required to achieve these outcomes.
The economic cluster should be reduced to just three ministries to enable more coherent economic policy: finance, state-owned entities and jobs. Appointing the right people to these three ministries is critical.
The finance minister must be committed and authorised to set a debt ceiling. The public sector wage bill must be brought down as a percentage of our national budget, so that more funds can be invested in the infrastructure required for economic growth.
The public enterprises minister must be willing to privatise nonstrategic state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as SAA and restructure Eskom to enable a private sector-led transition to cheaper, cleaner energy sources. This requires a minister who will stand up to union bosses so the nation’s need for reliable, affordable electricity to power businesses and homes prevails over demands for protected jobs at inflated salaries.
The minister of jobs must craft every policy area for maximum job creation, recognising that entrepreneurs and investors are the solution not the problem.
Labour legislation, especially that which restricts small business, must be significantly liberalised. Broad unemployment, currently at a record high of 38%, is SA’s single biggest problem. Our labour legislation must be designed for job creation for the many, not job protection for the few.
The mining charter should be scrapped entirely. There has been almost no new investment in mines in the past decade, and unless this is reversed, our mining industry will further implode.
We don’t need a separate tourism ministry. We need a jobs minister committed to the visa reform required to boost tourism and investment. It must be easier for tourists and those with critical skills to enter SA.
Similarly, we should do away with a ministry of trade and industry in favour of a jobs minister committed to making the whole country a special economic zone, so that our firms can compete globally.
Agriculture and land reform should be merged into one ministry, with a minister who understands that expropriation without compensation will be devastating for agriculture and the banking sector.
Ramaphosa needs to appoint a basic education minister who is committed and strong enough to stand up to the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). Teachers need to be properly assessed, trained, monitored and incentivised. This will not happen until Sadtu’s iron grip on our education system is released.
The sports ministry should be merged with basic education to achieve bottom-up transformation in sport, while science and technology should be merged with higher education to better foster innovation.
The health minister must see the private sector as an ally rather than a threat. SA simply cannot afford to implement national health insurance in its current guise, which amounts to nationalising the current private health sector. It would be disastrous. Rather, we should concentrate on fixing our public hospitals, expanding access to primary health-care clinics, and on leveraging the private health sector for maximum public benefit.
Significant control must be devolved to those provinces with the capacity to manage their own police forces. Effective crime fighting needs localised knowledge and intelligence on the ground. The DA-run Western Cape is seeking a degree of control over policing in the province, and we hope the minister of police will act in the public interest.
Cities should also be given more control. They are the key centres of future development, the most efficient locus for delivering services and extending opportunities to more people. SA needs a minister of local government who understands this and pushes for more devolution of power to cities, be it to run their own railways or to purchase their own electricity directly from suppliers.
Cape Town, for example, stands ready to develop an integrated, single-ticket public transport system for bus and rail. Many Western Cape municipalities have the systems in place to purchase power directly from independent producers.
The environment ministry cannot be a dumping ground for disgraced ministers. Rather, it must be recognised as critical to our long-term future. It needs someone who recognises the threats posed by climate change and ecosystem degradation and has the courage and vision to drive practical, innovative solutions. This person will need to interact closely with many other ministries to ensure resilience is built into every aspect of our society.
Home affairs needs a minister who understands the importance of an efficient, controlled immigration process coupled with secure borders. The current uncontrolled influx of undocumented immigrants makes planning and budgeting difficult and ineffective.
State security must have a minister who can professionalise the department and focus on ensuring the nation’s security and fighting corruption rather than on waging factional battles.
Finally, I propose that Ramaphosa convene a summit on race and reconciliation. Our nation needs an honest conversation about the best way to build an inclusive economy that generates opportunity for all. If we are to succeed, we need to find each other and start working together as one nation with one shared future.
• Maimane is DA leader.