ANC looks to new planning body for coordination

Ido Lekota

Ido Lekota

During an interview with Sowetan, SA Communist Party spokesperson Malesela Maleka said it was almost a truism to say the ANC could not be faulted when it comes to the policies it has adopted to fight the legacy of apartheid.

The challenge, Maleka suggested, lies in the government's ability to monitor the effective implementation of those policies.

"There is a need to hold ministers accountable when it comes to ensuring that they act in tandem with national priorities as articulated in the ANC election manifesto," said Maleka.

This essentially seems to be the raison d'etre for the establishment of the much spoken-about planning commission.

"What we want is to enhance the ability of government in long-term planning and holding those responsible for implementation accountable," Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said.

During a recent debate on the proposed commission at the Isandla Institute in Cape Town, ANC MP Jeremy Cronin said one of the ANC-led government's major shortcomings was "of strategic discipline".

"This meant that government departments acted independently of each other, sometimes in competition, resulting in billions of rands being spent on projects that had little connection to the country's development priorities.

"There were attempts to introduce a greater level of coordination such as through the cabinet cluster system, but reports from those suggest there was little effective coordination.

"They tend to be peer groups agreeing with each other and supporting each other's pet projects or, at worst, result in a deadlock between ANC cadres where competition goes on between rival parties at huge cost to the country," Cronin said.

One of the ANC 2007 Polokwane conference resolutions was the creation of "an institutional centre for government-wide economic planning intended to integrate and harmonise planning and implementation across all three spheres of government".

Subsequent to Polokwane, the ANC established an Economic Transformation Commission that was assigned to look into these issues. Cronin was part of the commission. One of the consequences of the commission was the idea of a planning commission.

Some of the things the commission is expected to achieve is to coordinate economic development to determine the direction of a country. It is also expected, through central planning, to ensure that resources match national commitment.

Simply put, it means that the commission will enable the new government to prioritise projects that it needs to embark on - so as to deliver on the commitments made in the election manifesto.

This will be done according to the resources available. As it is the ANC has already indicated that, for the first time, the government would explore going into a 3,8 percent budget deficit - which means it intends to make more resources available for such projects.

The commission will ensure that such resources are effectively utilised to enhance development.

According to Cronin, the commission "will overcome fragmentation in government or where decisions were made on major investments that were the result of lobbying rather than by the development needs of the country.

"The commission is also expected to ease the tension between the imperatives of economic growth and development thereby allowing the state to act as a coherent agency," argues Cronin.

The commission is expected to be located in the Presidency and will be headed by a senior cabinet minister. There has been suggestions that Finance Minister Trevor Manuel could be the body's head.

The name of ANC head of policy Jeff Radebe has also been bandied around as a possibility. Unlike in the case of the current clusters where peer ministers are supposed to monitor each other, the commission will have powers to supersede decisions made by "junior ministers".

One of the proposals has been that the conveners of the current ministry clusters should become members of the commission. However, there are already suggestions that the current ministries will be re-configured.

The new government is expected to hold the first cabinet lekgotla in two weeks time.

It is at that gathering that the commission is expected to eventually take form.