THE African National Congress's (ANC's) national policy conference has come and gone and one thing that is evident is that it has created policy uncertainty for the country. The slow wheels of decision-making processes in the ANC constitute serious political risk.

It is not political risk in the eyes of the international investor community that should worry us most, but the adverse effects of indecision on the speed and quality of service delivery for the poor.

No doubt investor confidence is important too, as it can be impaired by the ambiguity of the ANC's policy processes.

The time it takes to filter policies through the government has implications for decisions taken by business leaders as to whether to inject capital into the economy. Indecisiveness also blights the hopes of ordinary citizens, especially the poor.

The ANC leadership should understand that policy ambiguity has a throttling effect on investor confidence, and can undermine growth and job-creation prospects. Businesses find it difficult to undertake long-term planning and make commitments towards large-scale expansion projects in a policy climate characterised by opacity.

Instead, they reason that the safe bet for them is to hoard their capital and to save shareholders some anxiety. It would be reasonable, therefore, to characterise ANC practices as antidevelopmental.

It was acceptable in the early 1990s for the ANC to have convoluted debates about policy. At the time, there was a great deal of forbearance among South Africans, and we were willing to give the ANC a chance. Moreover, the ANC enjoyed significant goodwill internationally. This is no longer the case.

There is a reasonable expectation for the ANC to live up to its commitments as a governing party. People's patience is fast running out. The party cannot be fiddling still while there is so much at stake, especially to make improvements in critical areas of public services such as education, health and housing. This is not helped by the fact that the country is led by someone who lacks fresh ideas and seems unable to grasp the gravity of the economic challenges of our time.

President Jacob Zuma is not interested in policy innovation and improving the efficiencies of bureaucracy. His primary concern is to secure his legacy by hook or by crook, including through stealing old ideas formulated by his predecessors, dressing these in radicalised language, and passing them off as his. That is how desperate South Africa's leadership is at the top.

The conference amply demonstrated the ANC's inability to rise to the task of governing. There is no better confirmation of this than the resurrection of the elementary policy positions set out in the 1992 Ready to Govern document. It is as if the ANC is still unsure whether it is indeed ready to govern. Maybe it is not, after all.

As the basis of governance, the ANC's national policy conferences are inadequate in offering guidance on managing the economy and building efficiencies in government. The resolutions from such conferences are meaningless and are often a product of compromises based on the lowest common denominator. They are incongruent with the difficult socioeconomic challenges that ordinary people grapple with daily. They are also oblivious to the tough questions business is asking about the future stability of the country's macroeconomic environment and the steadiness of its leadership.

The ANC needs to understand that the way it has been formulating policy is counterproductive. As a party that enjoys majority support, it would always be expected to set out a broad governing ethos to underpin the state. It does not, however, need to determine fine policy detail. That is a task best left to competent bureaucrats who should operate autonomously from political influence.

Unlike politicians, bureaucrats are supposedly employed on the basis of their qualifications, experience and competence. Sadly, in Zuma's administration, failed politicians have been reincarnated as bureaucrats as a way to support comrades financially.

The recent fallout between Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and Langa Zita, her director-general, is an expression of this perverse mixing of politics and professional public service. The bulk of Zita's career, for example, is as a high-ranking South African Communist Party activist and a veteran ANC MP. He is ill suited to run a government department administratively.

Practices that make it easy for politicians to become bureaucrats in the twinkling of an eye have their origins in party conferences. They undermine the functioning of government bureaucracy and hurt the poor.

Renewing bureaucracy and strengthening the institutions of the state should render it unnecessary for progress to be compromised by the tortuously slow processes of policy formulation in the ANC. If the party is serious about economic stability and development, it should ensure that the locus of policy making resides with the bureaucracy rather than faction-ridden policy conferences.

. Qobo teaches politics at the University of Pretoria and is a member of the Midrand Group.