Building a Capable State for a prosperous nation

African National Congress (ANC) and South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa. FILE PHOTO

The ruling party has identified and announced enhancing the state’s capacity to serve the people as priority number one in its annual January 8 statement this year. In the statement, the African National Congress themed this priority as “Building a capable state that serves all people.” It further subtitled this priority with injection number one of the Freedom Charter which says: “The people shall Govern.”

In summary, the ANC outline that it will do the following in its prioritisation of the construction of a capacitated state:

1.       Encourage active citizenry.

2.       Be more vigilant in the screening of its deployees to ensure they “meet the highest standards of ethics, morality and service to the people.”

3.       Enforce consequences management.

4.       Restore public institutions, with more emphasis on State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

5.       Introduce the District Development Model as a strategy to strengthen local government.

In this article, I seek to interrogate whether or not the ANC was correct in prioritising the building of a capable state as number one priority, and if the methods it is going to adopt are realistic, pragmatic and implementable. This is necessary because I have strong believe that most of us in the country are fed up with political rhetoric and empty promises that never materialise, and beyond that the socioeconomic challenges facing the country are dire and require urgent intervention. We are in desperate need of solutions that are well thought out, pragmatic and implementable!

I totally agree with the African National Congress that building a capable state is a top priority for South Africa. However, I don’t think it is the number one priority for them as a governing party. The ANC has been in power for more than 25 years and if it was serious about the realization of a capable state I would be happily enjoying it with rest of the nation, instead of penning this piece, but that’s beside the point.

My main qualm is that the ANC is the governing party which essentially means it is the leader of the state through its representatives in government. A capable state will never be realized until the ANC itself is in good shape to lead that process of building it. I strongly contend that, in its current form, the ANC is not in a position to lead and deliver that necessary process of building a capable state.

The number one priority for the ANC should be to firstly, fix itself. It should resolve its internal challenges which include, amongst others, toxic factionalism, the careless cadre deployment that facilitates patronage which in turn inspires corruption, embezzlement of funds and looting of state resources, gate-keeping and careerism.

It is only when the ANC has cleansed itself will be in better position to lead the building and realization of a capable state. The longer they prolong this cleansing process, the further we are from the realization of a capable and developmental state. How do we expect people who are not afraid to break their own rules – the constitution of the ANC – to uphold the rules governing them in government and their oath of office?

How do we expect people who are the heart of collapsing the legacy of their own movement and the movement itself to be the ones in the fore front of building a capable state? Our expectations are completely ludicrous and illogical. The ANC must fix itself first!

The ANC was correct in its assessment of how we can achieve a capable state. Those five methodologies they have identified in their statement are all essential for the development of a capable state. In fact, if the ANC was in proper shape I would be convinced that we are well on our way towards a capable state.

Citizens are the primary component of each and every state and hence their activism is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the state. Progressive activism of the citizens is a must in the building and realization of a capable state. As citizens of this country we must be active and patriotic on a daily basis.

As part of our active citizenry we must uphold the rule of law in the land – the constitution – at all times.  We must never stop holding our leaders accountable. We must act in the best interest of the country in all the spaces we find ourselves and we must provide progressive ideas as sustainable solutions to the challenges faced by the country and the entire African continent.

The middle class has a bigger role to play in this regard. It is the educated, the professionals and the entrepreneurs that must lead this charge of proactive citizenry. They must be more patriotic in their cause of action. The middle class must fight against the growing ‘apoliticalism’ and elitism that continues to set us back as country. The must in engage in progressive political activities that seek to build this country towards prosperity.

The professionals must play a central role in the restoration of our public institutions and State-Owned Enterprises provided we abandon cadre deployment and opt for meritocracy and technocracy. We are in desperate need of a more professionalised public administration and service that will be led and represented by the best amongst us.

Only those who qualify academically, ethically and morally, and have the best skills must be found in the public administration and service. Our public institutions must be led by the best for them to be the best. Those in government must be deliberate about restoring our public institutions and stop rhetoric and politicking, because it is not as if we lack the intelligentsia and the necessary skilled personnel in the country.

I find it absurd that the state spends enormous resources and money to educate us, but the best amongst us are left for the exploitation of corporate private sector, while the government is left scrambling for the average. The government educates most of from our primary schooling until our tertiary education with the tax payers money but at the end it is the big companies that line to exploit the ‘cream of the crop’ while public institutions and SOEs are in desperate need of this human capital.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with working for well-established private companies. My point is public institutions and SOEs must have their fair share of the ‘cream of the crop.’ The reality is that the state needs these highly qualified and skilled people in order to have the best functioning public institutions and SOEs, and hence these institutions rely so much on consultants.

Many of these consultants are the very same individuals educated by the government throughout their education and most of their training, the problem now is that the government has to go through corporate private sector to access them, through companies like KPMG, McKenzie, Alexandra Forbes and the likes. In order to have strong and functional public institutions and SOEs this needs to change.

Consequence management is also an imperative instrument to strengthen the functionality of public institutions and SOEs. Incompetent people and those found doing wrong must suffer the consequences of their actions. People just do wrong things and when they caught or exposed all they do is resign and wait for another deployment elsewhere, knowing very well that there will be no severe consequences for their actions – that needs to come to an end.

People must be prosecuted and jailed for corruption, looting of state resources and maladministration. Those who steal money must pay it back and if they can’t the relevant authorities must cease their assets. The collapse for our public institutions and SOEs has gone on for far too long with complete impunity; we can no longer afford to just personalize, politick, write and make noise about it – people must suffer the consequences if we are serious about restoring the functionality of our public institutions and SOEs.

We also need to downsize the cabinet – our cabinet is just too bloated! We need a cabinet of at most 20 ministries including the Presidency. Bigger economies than ours, such as Singapore, have smaller cabinets than us and their states are more capable. We need to be a bit more strategic in how we reimagine and reconfigure the cabinet. This will help us a great deal in making government more efficient and coherent in performing its primary duties and ultimately in the process of building an effective capable state.

Lastly, we need to fix our local governments. We can never realize a capable and developmental state for as long as the state of our local governments is not improved. The latest audit report done by the Auditor General of South Africa on local government is very shocking and alarming. There were over 200 municipalities that were unqualified in that audit report, this tells that our local governments are in tutus.

The ANC government plans to introduce a District Development Model is more like what is call the Territorial Development Model in Europe. This sounds like a good plan but one might ask: how is this different for the already existing Integrated Development Plan model, and if the underlying factors underpinning the disfunctionality of local governments are not resolve will this model work and how?

This is the time where we need to get to the heart of the problem instead of just name-changing things and introducing new models while the rot is still alive and kicking. We must remove the rot first and then introduce new models. I am not against the District Development Model, in fact I support this model wholeheartedly, but I don’t think the ground has been made fertile for it to succeed – we need to work the ground first by removing the rot before we can introduce this new model.

There’s no doubt that we need to capacitate the state to efficiently and effectively serve the people and that can only be achieved if the governing party – the ANC – fixes itself and starts taking decisive actions against those who are derailing us in this process of building a capable and developmental state. It is only when the leaders are credible, qualified and capable that the citizens will be inspired to play their part daily. We need strong and capable leadership to build a capable state; it is a task of us that must be led by the best amongst us. 

Kefentse Mkhari is a BSC. Mathematical Sciences Student at UNISA and a former Wits SRC President. he is also the Founder and Director of Makhandeni Events (Pty) Ltd.