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Nene: SA needs strong leadership for these turbulent times

May 31 2017 22:36
Amanda Khoza, News24

Johannesburg – Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene on Wednesday night admitted that the country was going through a turbulent time.

“We are indeed living in turbulent times…Our economy is moving at a snail’s pace and for some it may feel like it is not moving at all. And then there is the political drama that grabs attention much more than any of the soapies currently out there.

“When you open the newspaper, you wish you could start on page three, it is the same menu and I think we are beginning to lose focus on what we are truly about,” said Nene.

He was speaking at the launch the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business satellite campus in Sandton.

Nene said there were so many challenges facing the country but the country needed to cast its eyes beyond those challenges.

“Turbulent times call for a special type of leader, above all else, it calls for steady nerves. Turbulent times call for leaders to gaze beyond the fog. They also need to make their followers believe that tomorrow will be greater than today.”

He said even under the best of circumstances, achieving sustained economic growth and development was difficult.

“It takes a lot of focus and discipline by policy makers and the country’s leadership. But as we all know one never has the best of circumstances, at least not all the time.”

He said achieving sustained economic growth and development was even more challenging and to manage to keep the country’s head above economic waters, there must be a few basic things in place.

“There needs to be sound economic and social policies, effective and efficient public administration and good political leadership. In the absence of good leadership there will be no sound economic and social policies.”

He said there were leaders out there who did not focus on the success of their communities but instead focused “on themselves, their immediate families and their cronies”.

“Even if a country has sound economic policies in place, they won’t be implemented without sound public administration.”

He said weak public administration was the function of poor leadership and that long term growth was sustained by strong political leadership.

“Such growth required of leaders to choose a growth strategy, communicate that strategy to the public or the electorate, and convince people that the future rewards are worth the efforts.”

Nene said leaders can only succeed if their promises are credible and inclusive.

“If they can assure people that they can enjoy a share of the benefits of economic growth or at the very least, that their children will have a better life. So we must be careful if our leadership fails, because we are not only failing ourselves, but the next generation.”

He said promises will be believable if policies are implemented by effective public administration.

“As the saying goes, you can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

Part of achieving sustainable growth was ensuring that talent was retained, that people were paid the salaries that they deserved and that people were promoted because of hard work and talent, not because of political patronage, Nene said.

“We know from our recent experiences that an effective public servant is as dangerous as a public servant who does not know what they are doing.”

He said a culture of honest public servants must be fostered and maintained.

“The integrity of the state machine matters a great deal. Corruption is not only a tax on economic growth, it is the theft of the futures of the most vulnerable in society. It deprives the poor… because they rely on the state to provide services.”

He said good governance was built on four pillars: accountability, transparency, predictability and participation.

“Developing and implementing public policy is difficult even under the best of times as you know the times prevailing in our country are not the best of circumstances.”

He said economic management was a science, not an art.

“The art of economic management has to be practised in an environment of great uncertainty… These days finance ministers' tasks are made much more complex for the fact that they have to manage in a time of socio-economic turbulence.”

He said South Africa’s success also depended on its relationship with the global community.

“For decades ahead South African policy makers will have to manage our economy in such a manner that our economy and society reap maximum benefits but at the same time, strengthen the country’s ability to with-stand shocks emanating from elsewhere in the world.”

Another complicating factor, Nene said, was that public policy implementation was difficult.

“What makes things relatively easy for the private sector is that they have one objective, profits. Private sector firms that fail, disappear…. Public sector institutions have multiple objectives and are immune to be disciplined by the public they serve.”

He said the poorest of the poor depended on the public sector and corruption robbed them.

“The voice of the poor is hardly heard in the corridors of power and the public sector. Upper income earners can buy security and education from the private sector.”

He said now more than ever, good leadership was needed the most.  

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