National Planning Commission must be supported

TO be really effective, the new envisaged National Planning Commission must operate like the command centre of a country at war, meticulously planning, not against invaders, but the transformation of the economy, as if the country's future depended on it - which it does.

TO be really effective, the new envisaged National Planning Commission must operate like the command centre of a country at war, meticulously planning, not against invaders, but the transformation of the economy, as if the country's future depended on it - which it does.

South Africa's extraordinary high levels of mass poverty, unemployment and inequality are pegged at levels that were seen in many countries only during the Great Depression and during or immediately in the aftermath of wars.

Most successful developing countries since the Second World War have had a central structure, managing economic development, around a well-thought through long-term development plan. Such central planning units make detailed audits of the state of the economy. They draw up plans to improve their economies to specific time-lines, closely monitoring these plans to see implementation remains on schedule, if not, or if the policies appear to be inappropriate, make suitable interventions.

They task individuals with responsibility for every facet of the delivery chain. Only the most talented are appointed to these central planning institutions. Those who don't deliver get the sack.

In many countries these planning structures were set up after governments, society and citizens realised that their countries were in deep crisis. They had to do something very quickly to lift their economies out of the morass. The national planning commissions' task was to raise economic growth, spread prosperity to the largest number of people in the shortest possible time, and industrially catch up with competitors in record time. These structures had the political backing of leaders, all political parties, civil society and the wider population. Everything was given to them to make their work possible. These organisations were accountable and had to account for every cent.

These central planning institutions were at the centre of efficient public services, marshalling them behind a common goal: to secure industrialisation in the quickest possible time, according to clear delivery time-lines, and targets. These institutions were backed up by an extremely competent public service, led by the best talents. Appointment was through strict entrance exams.

South Africa's public service is politicised, riddled with corruption and inefficiency. On current form it will not be able to deliver a successful developmental state. In fact, any national planning commission may see the implementation of its policy stymied by an inefficient public service.

By setting up a national planning commission of the best brains, giving them a clear mandate, targets and deliverables, and a long-term development plan to pursue, the commission may possibly have to circumvent the public service, at least in the short-term, when the service is being transformed into a more efficient and accountable one.

A national planning commission that has the backing of the president can circumvent lethargic parts of the civil service and which has the power to get individual departments and officials to do something to deliver, should be the ideal. Fighting poverty, unemployment and inequality should be like fighting a war: every resource, available talent must be marshaled to tackle these problems as quickly as possible. Finally, such a planning commission must have an extraordinary sense of accountability, transparency, internal democracy and must also allow for maximum citizen participation.

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