ONE of the basic requirements for teamwork and partnership is effective communication. This is also the basic requirement of effective leadership. Forget trust and common purpose (which are for advanced strategic collaboration), SA is failing at leadership and teamwork 101; basic communications. The government has produced two economic policy documents: the New Growth Path (NGP), devised by the Ministry of Economic Development, and the National Development Plan (NDP), a product of the National Planning Commission, which was convened by Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel. The NGP is a short-to medium-term tactical document that looks primarily at supporting reindustrialisation and manufacturing, though it covers aspects of broad economic policy, including fiscal and monetary. The NDP is a long-term strategy document that looks at the country's options for broad economic development.
In theory, this is sound management. First, the country has blueprints for its development path that anyone can read and engage policy makers on. Second, the government has broad strategy documents that provide its employees, key policy makers and administrators a clear framework for understanding where we are going and how we intend getting there.
We have an economic playbook that everyone has access to. So the questions is: why is it that there are so few messages from government decision makers about this playbook and why is it that so many of the key players in the political economy seem to have ignored it altogether?
SA is in an economic crisis; our unemployment is similar to Spain's, our economic growth marginally stronger but in the same league as the euro zone's and our national debt, while nothing like most of Europe, will soon reach worrying levels. If one takes into account the trajectory of off-balance sheet items such as state-owned enterprise debt, the public sector (and therefore SA) is geared sufficiently to cause concern.
We need resolute commitment on addressing the uncertainty facing the economy. Central to this is a clear, unambiguous and repetitive message from the government about its chosen path. Say what you will about the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy, but there was a sense of clarity about government policy, commitment and action. Key to this were the resounding and repeated messages that came from the Presidency and the Treasury.
The clearest indication that one is serious about a goal is how realistic one is about articulating the objectives and the demonstration of concerted action in the pursuit of that goal. In a sense, it is simply about repetition of message, about core purpose and progress of objectives. On that score, it is arguable that we are not communicating our seriousness about economic development. Put together with policy uncertainty, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
One of Franklin Roosevelt's greatest contributions to political developments in the US was his policy-signalling through his depression-era "fireside chats", giving investors, decision makers and the public hope and a sense of direction. It was simply about repetition and leadership communication. SA's structural unemployment problem and long-term growth capacity are as bad as, if not worse than, the US's unemployment problem and economic crisis during the Great Depression.
We face the pressing challenge of ensuring that as many South Africans as possible enjoy the dignity of real economic opportunity, which for the vast majority of the population is jobs. There are many indignities that people can endure, but almost every indignity is multiplied by being economically impotent. There is also the dilemma that much of SA's employment problem is structural in nature and therefore will not automatically respond positively to an increase in aggregate demand.
Therefore, while growth is a minimum condition for labour absorption, it is an insufficient condition for tackling SA's employment challenge.
The point is that we need to hear, regularly, what we are doing to deal with economic growth and job creation from the president and the C abinet. We need to hear regularly from the ministers responsible for the various strategies, and the other ministers who are critical to the success of these strategies, about progress plans and impact assessments for these strategies and their associated goals.
We need a clear message from the government that all its members are delivering on expressed and, one hopes, agreed policies to promote faster, more inclusive and balanced growth and interventions to address unemployment. Only when government communications about jobs and the economy is consistent and believable can we dream about partnerships and mixed economies.
. Mahabane is head of Brunswick SA.