This year’s state of the nation address (Sona) takes on a much different hue from those of yesteryear for one important fact: we’ve all been disrupted.
As difficult a start to the year as it has been, this month has provided some level of reprieve with the good news of the arrival of the first round of vaccine doses and the launch of registration for health-care workers, who are set to be the first beneficiaries. News of the rollout came with the easing of adjusted level three lockdown regulations. Both are positive for business.
Businesses large and small stand ready to drive the recovery from the economic crisis that the pandemic has unleashed across the world. We must act to protect the jobs that we still have and work with the government and social partners to create an enabling environment for more jobs after our official unemployment rate breached the 30% mark in 2020.
It will be crucial that business helps immunise vulnerable groups by the end of our winter to reduce stress on our hospitals and remove the need for stringent lockdown measures should there be a third and possibly even a fourth wave of this pandemic. Repeated reintroduction of the restrictions will further set back our economic recovery.
We must be left with no questions about the integrity of the vaccine rollout, ensuring that we don’t see a repeat of the bungled and, in the end, corrupted process with much of the personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement in 2020. While reflecting on that process, as business we must applaud and acknowledge the milestones achieved by the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) in uncovering PPE corruption. Of the more than R30bn spent between April and November 2020, the unit has found that contracts worth about R13bn, or 2,556 separate cases, warranted investigation.
The work of the SIU in such a speedy manner needs to be applauded, and we hope that in the implementation of the vaccination rollout there will be much more prudence from a governance perspective to avoid the levels of corruption that ensued with PPE.
While this year’s state of the nation address will naturally gravitate on the vaccine response, we must also lift our heads as leaders from the current crisis and look to the challenges that lie beyond. Only by addressing them successfully will we provide firm foundations for the economy and as a result, better lives for all South Africans. There’s still uncertainty surrounding the president’s main reforms in the areas of spectrum, energy, visas and wider infrastructure that were outlined in 2020’s address. This year, we need a clear plan and hard evidence of progress.
Social partners all signed up to the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan 2020; we need to move on from Nedlac debates to implementation of the decisions made. What we need is action and delivery-orientated thinking from the government or else we risk still being here in a year’s time, something we simply cannot afford.
Energy policy is the most pressing issue for businesses as they look to plan for the recovery. Eskom’s maintenance programme will continue to result in load-shedding for months to come. What would aid the situation would be an urgent, fast-tracked amendment to schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act, raising the threshold for the licensing of self-generation to 50MW and crowding in 5GW of new electricity capacity. This would be hugely catalytic to jobs, a clean energy transition and the creation of manufacturing capacity.
We need electricity and we need investment. Business wants to maximise the amount of supply it sources domestically, but it cannot do so by sacrificing quality or through higher costs — that damages our competitiveness overall. There is a clear opportunity to stimulate industrialisation through a gradual ramp-up of local content requirements in the energy transition, but one that is sensitive to a realistic view of the domestic capacity we have to supply different technology types.
We know a lot of low-level reforms are being implemented, yet much of this is kept from business. We would welcome more transparency to help business see what is and is not going on — to help add credibility to the process.
But it is critical for the government to act with speed on reforms and provide clarity where there’s uncertainty, while establishing clear time frames for each measure and ensuring they’re adhered to. That will trigger private sector investment. The longer these are delayed, the more harm is done to the economy.
This column was written by Busi Mavuso and was first published in Business Day.
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