Some bones to PICK with JZ

Zamikhaya Maseti

Zamikhaya Maseti

The long-awaited Jacob Zuma era has finally dawned. Bravo!

President Jacob Zuma has appointed his Cabinet and it has been given thunderous applause by both domestic and international capital.

His critics have decided to suspend their criticism and give him a chance; including Zapiro, the well-known political cartoonist, who has temporarily suspended his showerhead.

I fully agree that we all have to give the new president of the Republic a chance; but that does not necessarily mean that we have to suspend intellectual engagement.

My plate is already full of bones that I would like to pick with Zuma, especially around his new Cabinet structure and the hallmarks of his presidency over the next five years. My first impression about his Cabinet is that it is very bloated.

The deputy ministers are the ones who are bloating the structure and I wonder whether our struggling economy will carry this heavy bureaucratic load, taking into account all their perks and packages, including the support staff that they will need. There are other hidden costs such as office accommodation, ministerial complexes, so on and so forth.

Undeniably this will impact negatively on accelerated service delivery, which is the mantra of his presidency. Gone are the days of budget surpluses. The country now runs on a budget deficit of R90billion.

The economy has already lost approximately 270 000 jobs. As the economy sheds more jobs, the more government's revenue base shrinks.

Deputy ministers by definition are not full members of the Cabinet; they are mere senior assistants to the ministers with no executive powers.

If their executive, political and administrative status will remain the same, why does he bloat his Cabinet structure with many deputies?

The much-talked-about National Planning Commission (NPC) also turned out to be a great disappointment and an empty shell. I was hoping that the NPC would rest firmly on economic development planning, monitoring and evaluation as one of its key functions.

The elevation of what I consider to be the main pillars of the NPC into full ministries continues to baffle me.

As things stand, Trevor Manuel's function becomes an administrative "planning role" with no substance at all. How will he relate to Collins Chabane and Ebrahim Patel around these critical functions that are now full ministries?

The creation of the ministries of Economic Development and Performance Monitoring and Evaluation clips Manuel's wings even before he starts flying.

In his acceptance and inaugural speeches Jacob Zuma spoke about "returning the nation to the Mandela legacy of promoting friendship, harmony, unity and reconciliation".

During the Mandela era we had to deal with the corrosive socio-economic impact the apartheid system had on blacks in particular. We had to forgive and work with the proponents of the apartheid ideology.

The challenge now is to review whether reconciliation and forgiveness have improved race relations in the country. Over the past 15 years we have seen serious acts of racism.

In taking this country forward Zuma will have to look very critically at the Mandela and Mbeki legacies and see how best he can move forward.

In trying to correct some of the problems of the Mandela legacy, Mbeki came up with the "two nations" thesis that was unfortunately misconstrued to be racism.

Mbeki came up with the economic metaphor of the first and second economy in which his government developed specific interventions to build a staircase between these two economies.

The main challenge facing the country today is the global economic meltdown. Zuma will have to come up with a strategy to prevent the job losses.

He will have to lean more on Mbeki's economic legacy of expanded public works programmes; and first and second economy interventions.

He needs to clearly define the main features and characteristics that will define his presidency and be his trademark that South Africans will remember him for.

In line with the notion of continuity and change, he will have to build on what exists and come up with the most innovative ways of doing things differently as well.

When he delivers his first state of the nation address, I would like to hear him saying: "Yes we can and will finally weather the global economic turbulences."

In so doing, he will have to present a convincing and appealing economic recovery plan.

l Maseti is a political economy analyst and managing director of Ngubengcuka Consulting.