President Cyril Ramaphosa responds in parliament in Cape Town, February 18 2021. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES​
President Cyril Ramaphosa responds in parliament in Cape Town, February 18 2021. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES​

Besides the social and economic hardship that will be left in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the past year has also made South Africans more attuned to the role of data in managing a problem. This is not only true for responding to a pandemic, but also for dealing with SA’s broader range of development objectives.

In the debate about the recent state of the nation address, acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni reiterated President Cyril Ramaphosa’s invitation to South Africans to measure the performance of the sixth administration. It speaks to a heightened focus on accountability and the president’s signing of performance agreements with his cabinet in October last year. These are vital steps in rooting out corruption and creating a capable state.

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.

It’s been two years since the president identified the priorities of his administration, and it’s important to remember what these are — not only to keep the government accountable, but also to guide our own efforts towards the kind of SA we all want to live in. In the 2021 state of the nation address, the president emphasised four priorities for the economic and social onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic: defeat the pandemic, accelerate economic recovery, implement economic reforms in a manner that creates sustainable jobs and drives inclusive growth, and root out corruption. Besides defeating the pandemic, these priorities are not far removed from the overarching objectives of his administration.

However, SA’s development objectives must withstand changes in the political landscape, and for this the National Development Plan (NDP) remains crucial. Published in 2012 and setting out a vision for where SA should be by 2030, the NDP remains the policy guide for the next nine years.  The National Planning Commission (NPC) recently released a review of the NDP in which it confirms that the plan is still a relevant roadmap. The priorities of the sixth administration fully align with the objectives of the NDP.

However, knowing where we want to go means little if we don’t have a clear vision of where we find ourselves at the moment. In many ways this is not a rosy picture: population growth has outstripped economic growth since 2015, so South Africans have become poorer in real terms. Load-shedding still hobbles the economy, and inequality continues to be one of the largest sources of division in society.

These factors are not only issues of opinion — we can measure them. Yet nine years after publication of the NDP there has been no means of doing so. The closest instrument is the medium-term strategic framework, but this serves a different purpose: it guides the budgeting process and lists the resources and actions needed to achieve certain objectives. It does not report on developmental progress.

The Bureau for Economic Research released its NDP assessment report last week to contribute to filling this policy lacuna. Together with a team of collaborators across academic and civil organisations, we identified a list of indicators that can be used to evaluate SA’s developmental progress. Members of the NPC brought the need for measurement of the NDP to our attention and gave input into the process. The focus throughout was to identify a set of indicators that reflect on impact and outcomes, with the goal of providing a data-driven perspective of development progress in as short and concise a format as possible.

It requires all South Africans to buy into Vision 2030: if you are constructing a new building, it asks that you factor in the environmental cost of carbon emissions.

Reams of paper can be written on each of the indicators included in the report, and many of the experts who worked with us have dedicated their careers to these issues. Drawing from their knowledge, we were able to craft the document in a format that is accessible to all and easy to interpret. This is vital because achieving the objectives of the NDP requires a concerted effort by all South Africans.

The government plays a crucial role in creating a policy environment that instills confidence, but SA’s development journey is not only up to them. It requires all South Africans to buy into Vision 2030: if you are constructing a new building, it asks that you factor in the environmental cost of carbon emissions. If you are part of the police force, it asks that you act in a way that instills confidence in the institution. It asks of us to buy local if we are in the position to do so. If you are in school, it asks that you give your best. It asks of us to pay our municipal tariffs and to keep municipalities accountable to the towns and cities they serve. It asks for the best effort from business to make employment-based insurance affordable to employees.

Few things are as gratifying as working towards a goal and seeing things tick up. Our intention is to annually update the NDP assessment report so that South Africans have a better mechanism with which to hold ourselves and, importantly, the government accountable. We will maintain it as a living document that can become part of the conscience of South Africans, for  the general public and public servants alike.

Economic growth is often a self-fulfilling prophecy: if consumers and business believe the future looks rosy, they spend and invest. This creates a demand for goods, services and jobs. However, if the future is clouded by policy uncertainty, bad governance, poor service delivery and corruption, consumers and business hold on to their money,  reinforcing a downward spiral. This is largely what characterised many of the years since 2012, but it does not have to define the next nine years. We hope the NDP assessment report will help improve accountability in government and across all spheres of society on our journey to 2030.

• Helanya Fourie is senior economist at and Prof Johann Kirsten director of the Bureau for Economic Research, Stellenbosch University.

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