To my mind
ATTACK IS THE best means of defence. And this adage springs to mind when hearing what Thabo Mbeki had to say to business leaders at his recent imbizo in Gauteng. He blamed them for the problems being encountered by small, micro and medium enterprises – the so-called SMMEs.
The President criticised business leaders for not demonstrating the type of leadership that would help eliminate the challenges faced by small businesses. It’s probably true that successful business leaders play an important part as role models in the community.
But to say that it’s their responsibility to ensure the success of small businessmen is stretching it too far.
That’s where the strategy of attack as the best means of defence comes in. The President’s attack on business leaders was a clever ploy to divert attention from criticism from their ranks concerning issues such as the high cost of telecommunications and transport and South Africa’s dire skills shortage.
And when black businessmen had the courage to protest that they’re battling to obtain finance and training, which is exacerbated by late payments by State departments – thereby creating enormous cash flow problems for SMMEs – Mbeki cleverly diverted the offensive.
Though Mbeki’s strategy of blaming business leaders helped him save face, surely he couldn’t ever have imagined it would divert attention from SA’s real problems.
Other issues raised – such as the lack of infrastructure, poor service delivery by State departments and inadequate support for SMMEs – must obviously be laid at Government’s door.
And talk is cheap – especially in Government circles – concerning the need to promote entrepreneurship, as if to create the impression that this is akin to a miracle cure for SA’s unemployment problem. Nevertheless, the level of entrepreneurship in SA still falls far short of what’s being accomplished in other countries, as measured by various criteria used in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), compiled annually by the University of Cape Town.
The latest survey, issued earlier this year, showed that the promotion and support of entrepreneurship in SA are generally still inadequate.
Admittedly, there are major obstacles – such as access to finance – that business leaders should address more innovatively. Research undertaken for GEM indicates, among other things, that banks require too much collateral from entrepreneurs.
But Government isn’t exonerated in the report, Mr President. Proposals concerning Government policy include easing the administrative burden on entrepreneurs and simplifying regulatory processes. Furthermore, Government should refrain from introducing new regulations before their effect on SMMEs has been thoroughly investigated, and a distinction should be made in labour law for small businesses to allow them more flexibility in their formative years.
What’s cause for concern is that these recommendations, plus a long list of more specific ones, have been highlighted in GEM reports since 2001 as matters requiring urgent attention.
“There’s the perception that the relevant stakeholders have, in the past, not addressed all of these recommendations,” the report says.
The recommendations include a list of more than 20 in which Government is specifically named.
The report also says that corruption and nepotism must be eradicated by the politically powerful, that policy conflicts should be highlighted and solved between Government departments and that service delivery at various Government levels must improve drastically – one of the serious concerns raised by businessmen at Mbeki’s imbizo.
Judging from the evidence of a properly researched document like GEM, the problems raised seem valid and Mbeki certainly has a considerable amount of work to do fixing shortcomings in his own ranks rather than reverting to attacks on SA business.