Jacked-up civil servants vital to Mabuyane’s plan on how to fix the East Cape
An ambitious plan to develop the Eastern Cape will remain just a pipe dream if the government does not jack up the performance of civil servants.
Minutes before delivering his maiden budget speech in Bhisho on Tuesday, Finance MEC Oscar Mabuyane said the state machinery had to be overhauled for the province to have a fighting chance of turning its fortunes around.
“We need to look at how we strengthen the capacity of the state and the workforce,” Mabuyane said in an interview.
“We can sell all these dreams but if we don’t have a transformed state machinery that will respond to this, it will forever be a pipe dream.”
Mabuyane’s budget speech, billed as a plan to stimulate the provincial economy, comes two months before a general election in which he is in pole position to be elected premier, should the ANC retain power after May 8.
“Currently, the government is spending more than R700m a year on sick leave – that tells you more than 50% of its employees are taking sick leave,” Mabuyane said.
“There is something not right about that – and you can’t just leave it.
“We should be attending to that and asking ourselves penetrating questions.
“What is happening?” Mabuyane’s seven-point plan centres on developing a skilled and healthy workforce, building infrastructure and marketing the Eastern Cape as a competitive province to do business.
The provincial purse has R82.1bn for the 2019/2020 financial year.
Though slightly higher than estimates, the budget is a result of a shrinking equitable share, thanks to scores of people leaving the province in search of opportunities elsewhere.
“As we embark on investment promotion, our provincial government and municipalities must make it easier for investors to do business in the Eastern Cape than in other parts of the continent,” Mabuyane said.
“If we allow red tape to frustrate business, fight each other, and delay decision-making, we will lose the investments to places where things are done [properly].
“Let us get our house in order for the province to grow.
“Decisions must be taken to fast-track development that will deliver value for the Eastern Cape.”
Similar to the national government, the strategy is to rejig budgets to fund an economic stimulus package to, hopefully, fast-track projects already ripe for investment.
Priority sectors are agriculture and its value chains, the oceans economy, energy, manufacturing, tourism, infrastructure development and the creative industries.
“Every time you switch on the TV, you look at whatever soapie that is on and it is [played by] people from the Eastern Cape,” Mabuyane said.
“People also come to the [province] to shoot films.
“That’s why the department of sport and recreation will be establishing a film commission to show that we are now aggressive in that space and we will [provide] resources.”
The provincial stimulus package has been allocated R339. 402m in the 2019/2020 financial year and R1.1bn for the next three years.
Mabuyane said the national government had allocated R237m for the James Kleinhans water treatment facility to address the water crisis in Makhanda in the next three years.
About R80m of this was allocated for the 2019/2020 financial year.
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber CEO Nomkhita Mona said the budget speech offered a clear focus to develop the economy.
“Mabuyane outlined a plan for stimulating the economy, which included skills development and investment promotion across sectors.
“Both of these priorities will prove crucial to not only creating more jobs, but equipping unemployed citizens with the skills needed to gain sustainable long-term employment.”
She welcomed the decision to focus on key sectors.
“These sectors will be important for the metro’s diversified economic growth.
“The decision to develop the film industry and deploy a provincial MEC to establish a film commission will certainly contribute to this growth.”
She said the R2.3bn allocated to support smallholder farmers in the region in the next financial year would bring much-needed relief.
“This will also enable farmers to continue to employ a significant part of the region’s workforce.”
Economist Professor Charles Wait said: “It is a welcome fact that [Mabuyane] builds on the provincial development plan at a time when relatively little is heard from the central government about the national development plan.”
But he said Mabuyane’s plan was vague in parts.
“What is new? To what extent does it favour growth – has it succeeded when we look back in a year from now?
“What will make it inclusive?” Wait asked.
He said the attention paid to SMMEs – the planned rollout of a tracking system to fasttrack payments – was a step in the right direction.
DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said Mabuyane had failed to make bold pronouncements that would create economic growth.
“Consumption expenditure remains far too high in this province, whereas expenditure on infrastructure and investment has still not received the right share of the budget.”
Stevenson said he would have liked to hear Mabuyane speak more on how they would reduce expenditure on non-core items.
UDM MPL Thandi Mpulu said: “We welcome the budget but the reality of the matter is that there is a fiscal constraint.
“We don’t have enough money and the majority of our budget goes to the cost of employees.
“If you have money that goes to employees, you won’t be able to do service delivery.”