The nation must be reassured the NDP is indeed our roadmap - Trevor Manuel

Planning minister says it is often easy for us to forget the realities of poverty when arguing the principles of exact position

Address by Trevor A. Manuel, Minister in The Presidency: National Planning Commission, on the occasion of The Presidency Budget Vote National Assembly, Cape Town, June 12 2013

Honourable Speaker
Mr President Zuma
Deputy President Motlanthe
Honourable Members
Ladies and Gentlemen

As I listened to the address of the Speaker of the National Assembly at this podium yesterday I was reminded of how far we have come since President Nelson Mandela delivered his first State of the Nation Address. It is important that we take time to reflect on the journey that we have travelled but at the same time to ask whether we have made sufficient progress. We must reflect on where we find ourselves now as a country but also locate that reflection within the shifts that have taken place globally over this period. Tony Judt offers this reflection in his short but powerful book Ill Fares the Land:

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

Social transformation is not a gift from the gods and neither is it always a product of cataclysmic events. It is a product of a deep realisation that the conditions under which we live and under which we may raise families are unacceptable and unjust. It is a product of a deep probing of the kind that Judt encourages us to practice.

Social transformation is also a product of the resolve by members of society who decide that no longer will they leave the future of their children to chance. No longer will they accept living in inhumane conditions. When people decide that the health care provided to the sick among them is everyone's collective problem. That the drugs and crime that rip families and communities apart is everyone's problem. When education authorities, teachers, learners and parents recognise that they are on the same side, they begin to share a common goal.

Social transformation is a product of being conscious of social injustices; taking decisions to act on those injustices, of planning the course of action and of executing those plans. We have acted according to this spirit from the very founding of the African National Congress in 1912 to the gathering of people from all walks of life in Kliptown in 1955, to the negotiations that gave birth to the democratic South Africa. All of these events in our life as a nation were characterised by a deep sense of recognition that the situation we found ourselves in was untenable and we resolved to do something about it.

We continued in the same vein after 1994 guided by President Nelson Mandela's words that ‘[T]he purpose that will drive this government shall be the expansion of the frontiers of human fulfilment, the continuous extension of the frontiers of the freedom'. It was this approach that guided the drafting and adoption of the Constitution, the revision and replacement of apartheid legislation and the formulation of policies. The establishment of the National Planning Commission was part of this process where as a nation we had to find a more effective approach to addressing our challenges.

Honourable members, ten months ago we presented to President Zuma, this House and the nation the National Development Plan. We presented a product of two years of research and analysis, purposeful dialogue and deliberation on the future of this country. We presented a product in which the National Planning Commission took the opportunity to listen to thousands of South Africans from all walks of life share their thoughts, fears and visions about the future. We presented the Plan which embodies the dreams of the people of this nation.

As WB Yeats writes in his 1899 poem, Cloths of Heaven:

Had I heaven's embroidered cloths
Enwrought with golden and silver light
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light
I would spread the cloths under your feet,

But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

What has happened since we have spread this dream for South Africa at your feet in this House? In the weeks and months after the tabling of the Plan in this house, various political parties, including the party I belong to, debated the Plan extensively in their conferences and adopted it as a programme to guide our collective efforts as a nation for the next 17 years.

The National Development Plan has galvanised society to seriously think about and debate the future of this country. In any given week, there are conferences, seminars or workshops to discuss the NDP in the different parts of our country. These events are not organised by the Commission; they are organised by people across a wide range of sectors who care about the future of this country. Newspapers carry articles, analyses and opinion pieces about the National Development Plan on a daily basis.

Not everybody agrees with all the detail in the NDP but there is no denying that it has become a central part of our national narrative. Political analysts, media commentators and, indeed, members of this House are increasingly evaluating government actions, policies and strategies on whether or not they are aligned to the NDP.

So, clearly we have the country talking about the Plan, but what about action?

Mr Speaker, Cabinet endorsed the Plan during the Extended Cabinet Lekgotla in September 2012. This paved the way for the focus to shift towards implementation. Government departments immediately began to include some of the recommendations of the NDP in their annual plans for the current financial year, while the process of disaggregating the NDP into the first of the five-year plans in the form of the Medium Term Strategic Framework also got underway. Having listened to the various members of the Executive present their budgets over the past weeks, members of this House should have a clearer sense of how implementation will be structured over the coming years.

Allow me to pay tribute to the many colleagues in the various spheres of government and many fellow citizens in all manner of organisations who have begun this process.

When the Minister of Finance tabled the 2013/14 Budget earlier this year, he took the NDP as the starting point. The Minister announced, among others, reforms to strengthen the fight against corruption in the supply-chain management system by assigning a Deputy Director-General in his department to this initiative. This was followed by the announcement of a number of reforms championed by the Minister of Public Service and Administration to address capacity weaknesses in the public service as well as strengthen the fight against corruption.

Just this week, Minister Radebe announced the far-reaching decision by the Justice and Crime Prevention and Security Cluster to release publicly a list of names of people who have been convicted of fraud and corruption - demonstrating the zero tolerance approach to corruption that the NDP proposes.

The Minister of Sports and Recreation recently handed over an outdoor gym to the community of Rocklands in Mitchell's Plain, taking forward one of the proposals in the NDP to promote physical activity and healthy living. In collaboration with the Ministry of Sports and Recreation, the Ministry of Basic Education has reintroduced schools sports and physical education in schools across the country. Towards the end of last year, the Ministry of Health also launched a pilot project on integrated school health as a critical element of our revitalised primary health care system. All of these are recommendations contained in the NDP.

The City of Johannesburg recently announced a major infrastructure investment programme. This will include the introduction of transport corridors to connect the different parts of the city through affordable and accessible mass public transit in line with the NDP and the city's own Growth and Development Strategy 2040.

These are only some of the many initiatives where government has begun implementing different aspects of the Plan. But it is important that I re-state a point made previously, that this is not a plan for government only. The NDP invited South Africans from different sectors to work together in partnerships to implement the Plan and we have been humbled by the enthusiasm shown.

For example, stakeholders in the Early Childhood Development sector are currently engaged in discussions to find effective models of collaboration to take forward the proposals of the NDP. This collaboration involves different government departments, NGOs and the private sector.

Earlier this month, MEC for Education in KwaZulu Natal, Mr Senzo Mchunu in his budget vote speech announced that the province would establish a partnership with different sectors, in particular the private sector, on an initiative to improve learning outcomes as proposed in the NDP. Minister Motshekga also announced a national equivalent of this initiative called the Education Collaboration Framework in her budget vote speech last month.

Honourable members, in February this year, the President convened a meeting between Government and Business to discuss how to implement the NDP together. It was agreed that the two sectors should meet on a regular basis and a follow-up meeting is expected to take place in the next few weeks. In addition, Business Leadership South Africa has put together task teams that are focussing on identifying how the business sector can contribute to the implementation of the NDP.

Two weeks ago, the Commission was invited to a meeting of young people representing a number of organisations. These young people expressed enthusiastic support for the NDP. They see it as something that the youth should be actively involved in shaping and implementing. They took it upon themselves to assist in making the long NDP document more accessible to young people. They also resolved to create a "dashboard" to monitor implementation of youth related proposals in the plan and hold government and business accountable and to meet annually to track progress on implementation.

Mr President, it is important to reassure the nation that the NDP is indeed our roadmap and our people are striving to make it work. Rather than patting ourselves on the back we should instead be asking whether the initiatives being implemented will actually deliver change to those that need it the most.

It is often easy for us to forget the realities of poverty when arguing the principles of exact positions. Many of those who are able to provide detailed analysis and criticism of proposals do it from a position of relative comfort. While it is crucial that we implement strategies and policies that are thoroughly considered and discussed, and that we debate the merits of the proposals, quite often, alternative proposals are absent.

Turning to the criticism of NDP proposals on the economy, it is worth highlighting that there is not much disagreement on the goals and targets. Much of the disagreement centres on the proposed strategies to create jobs, grow the economy and ensure economic inclusion. Even if we accept that the criticisms of the proposed strategies are valid, this begs the question whether we should wait for complete consensus before starting to tackle the many challenges we face.

Are we able to face the unemployed young people and the thousands living in poverty and say we are not treading on your dreams? Will we be able to hold onto our integrity when they remain locked outside the labour market by the actions we take or fail to take?

Will they believe us when our actions sometimes close rather than open opportunities; when we appear to oppose everything without providing any solutions? Will our policy positions hold true when our actions as leaders in the public sector, business and labour exacerbate the living conditions of the poor instead of improving them? How can we look them in the eye when the gap between incomes of the rich and the poor remain so high? Should we not be doing more?

The NDP takes a comprehensive approach. By emphasising the building of human, physical and institutional capabilities, the NDP offers us an opportunity to make the transition from the undesirable situation we inherited to an economy we can all be proud of.

It contains proposals on how to transform the space economy - the relationship between where people live and where they work, and a careful selection of where different kinds of economic activity should take place. It also includes proposals on how to improve the quality of education and develop the skills of our people; how to create sustainable human settlements; the social safety net that should be provided; it addresses weaknesses in the public service and focusses on corruption.

All of these proposals are carefully selected to enable us to move from where we are to an improved state. But that requires us to have a firm understanding of our currently circumstances. In this regard, Judt observes:

...history is not foreordained, we mere mortals must invent it as we go along - and in circumstances, as old Marx rightly pointed out, not entirely of our own making. We shall have to ask the perennial questions again, but be open to different answers. We need to sort out to our own satisfaction what aspects of the past we wish to keep and what made them possible. Which circumstances were unique? And which circumstances could we, with sufficient will and effort reproduce?

Honourable members, the National Development Plan does not offer easy solutions to the challenges we face. It could never be easy to changing the path of our history. Reaching this point in our democracy has not been easy either, nor has it been by accident or without thought. In the past twenty years, the ruling ANC has adopted and implemented many policies that are sound.

Just so that we are clear, policies that in most cases were adopted by consensus by all political parties represented in Parliament. Policies designed to ensure that we change the reality that we inherited. When the policies do not have the desired outcome, we should have the maturity to reflect and the flexibility of mind to change our approach or discuss changing the policy, if required. This is precisely what the Planning Commission has done. We can only grow from learning but there cannot be any learning if we do not implement. Similarly, if our present strategies contained in the Plan do not work, we need to address it but we cannot wait for a perfect plan - such a thing does not exist. Learning as we implement allows us an opportunity to get better at implementation rather than become better at planning.

The implementation of the Plan is now the responsibility of government and the nation. The National Planning Commission will play an advisory role in order to contribute its expertise and independent perspective to the implementation of the Plan. This will include advising government and others sectors on implementation; commissioning research to deal with gaps; facilitating collaboration between different actors and mobilising support for the Plan.

The National Planning Commission has started working with the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation to develop the Medium Term Strategic Framework. Careful attention will be paid to how the different proposals are sequenced, in particular, identifying those that need to prioritised in the first five years.

We understand that the only way to ensure that South Africans know the plan is to make it easily accessible. We have translated the executive summary into all 11 languages, which is now available on our website. More copies of the National Development Plan will be printed and distributed to all public and university libraries, FET Colleges and Thusong centres. Work will start immediately on producing a pocket size version of the NDP to ensure greater accessibility.

Good planning requires credible evidence. The NPC manages two main research programmes. The first one is the National Income Dynamics Study - a panel study aimed at providing data that allow us to answer questions such as who is moving ahead in terms of income and who is staying behind and why. The second is the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development. This programme offers grants to researchers to undertake studies in government priority areas with the aim of extending the evidence available to policymakers.

For the 2013/14 financial year, the National Planning Commission is allocated a budget of R77.7 million. Of this R49 713 million is allocated to the Ministry sub-programme; R20 127 million to the Research and Policy Advisory sub-programme and R7 817 million to the Communication and Public Participation sub-programme.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, I want to reiterate, as a nation we must define what we want to become. This is what the National Development Plan does. To be able to do that, we must know what we are. Knowing what we are includes the recognition that as a nation we are not all that we would like to be.

This is the responsibility of history, the recognition of what we are, what we want to be and the journey in between. In dealing with this, it is very important that we, as colleagues, as honourable members of this House understand, always, the burden of responsibility that rests with us. It is the burden, so beautifully articulated in those words of the poet, Yeats, when he says of the poor who have only dreams, ‘Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams'

Thank you

Issued by The Presidency, June 12 2013

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