IAN KILBRIDE: A little less conversation, a little more action, please
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address offers him an opportunity to set out key deliverables against which he and his government can be measured
With some justification, business is accused of over-reliance on data and metrics to make sense of complexity. SA companies have been slow to appreciate the importance of “softer” skills, in particular stakeholder engagement, diversity and conflict management. Yet for all their obvious limitations, data and metrics provide a reasonably objective, measurable and transparent methodology for internal and external stakeholders to understand and rate company performance.
Adherence to and compliance with a demanding set of reporting criteria are prerequisites for a JSE listing and share valuations. Investors expect and demand not only clarity and transparency of company accounts, but a clear vision for growth and sustainability, marked by quarterly, six-monthly or annual forecasts and reporting. Such discipline can be brutal, demanding and burdensome, but it is fundamentally fair and honest. Failure to meet forecasts results in punishment from investors. Conversely, company outperformance generates greater dividends, higher valuations with a host of attendant benefits to stakeholders.
Political accountability is far less objective, infrequently measured and more amenable to manipulation. In this regard, democracy could be significantly strengthened by government being more business-like and paying more attention to key data and metrics and less to rhetoric. President Cyril Ramaphosa's state of the nation address offers him an opportunity to set out key deliverables against which he and his government can be measured
There is precedent. In his 2001 Sona President Thabo Mbeki made 43 “promises” that were evaluated 11 months later by the University of Stellenbosch against their achievement, progress or failure. This novel initiative provided the government and the nation more broadly with an independent and verifiable barometer of progress or otherwise. Moreover, it provided a simple scorecard of individual ministry and departmental performance, thereby inculcating greater transparency and accountability.
To his credit, Ramaphosa has introduced ministerial performance agreements and made them public. Alongside the president’s own annual performance plan they are welcome developments, but require considerable time and analysis to make sense of. To date they haven’t resulted in any significant policy improvements, less still the removal of underperforming ministers.
Given the depth, breadth, complexity and toxicity of the country’s challenges, there is little expectation of short-term solutions emerging from any Sona, but it is reasonable to expect measurable annual progress. That would require the president and his government to identify policy areas where improvement would have a meaningful, material and measurable impact on critical areas such as economic growth, job creation, energy security, service delivery, human security, health, education, trade and investment. No matter how well or badly previous governments have performed in these areas, the president could adopt 2022 as a baseline and plot metrics that would constitute progress or failure over a 12-month period.
Discord over social compact
The 2022 Sona was predicated on the avowed need for a new national consensus underpinned by the generation of a new social compact within 100 days. Not only has the president’s deadline been missed, the entire conceptualisation of a national social compact remains contested by the very social partners — government, labour, business and communities — that are meant to be its principal champions. It remains to be seen whether the president has ditched the idea or whether the document it is still being refined and will appear in some form in the year ahead. This is a not-inconsequential point given that the president regarded the crafting of the social compact as vital to growing the economy, creating jobs and combating hunger.
In the 2022 Sona Ramaphosa promised to continue prioritising the Covid-19 pandemic; a huge rollout of infrastructure; a substantial increase in local production; and employment stimulus to create jobs and support livelihoods; and the rapid expansion of our energy generation capacity. All five of these government priorities are laudable, but they lack clear, crisp data and metrics against which achievement or deviation can be measured. Such metrics would not only allow citizens to hold the president and his government to account; equally, Ramaphosa could build considerable political capital by demonstrating achievement. To enhance credibility and independence the objectives, goals and targets enunciated within the Sona could be evaluated and reported on by a reputable academic institution, just as Stellenbosch University did some 20 years ago.
This is therefore a call to Ramaphosa to be more business-like in his approach to the 2023 Sona and provide the nation with tangible metrics against which we can measure, reward and hold government to account in the journey towards a better life for all.
• Kilbride chairs Spirit Invest.
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