‘Civil so­ci­ety must speak with one voice’

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

IF SOUTH Africa’s democ­racy is to be up­held, the civil so­ci­ety move­ment needs to be strength­ened and bet­ter co-or­di­nated to en­sure that ac­count­abil­ity is sus­tain­able. That’s the view of for­mer deputy fi­nance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas, who spoke at the Open Book Fes­ti­val at The Fu­gard The­atre in Cape Town.

Jonas said the pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem had been tested in nu­mer­ous in­stances where the rul­ings of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court were not up­held.

“We are a coun­try in cri­sis. The lev­els of poverty and in­equal­ity are deep. The level of youth marginal­i­sa­tion is high; our econ­omy is grow­ing at a very slow pace. The poor and marginalised peo­ple are ask­ing for new so­lu­tions, and the rul­ing party is strug­gling to pro­vide those so­lu­tions,” he said.

Jonas also said the dan­ger of giv­ing too much power to po­lit­i­cal par­ties eroded pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity and the best way to rem­edy this was to es­tab­lish ac­tive cit­i­zenry.

“As South Africans, we need to be acutely aware of our in­sti­tu­tions, pro­tect­ing them and hold­ing them as cred­i­ble as pos­si­ble. There’s no in­sti­tu­tion you can dis­miss as unim­por­tant, as any­thing could hap­pen. In de­fend­ing democ­racy, we need to mon­i­tor our in­sti­tu­tions bet­ter, and in­ter­vene when they are cap­siz­ing.”

Jonas said the coun­try could not look at De­cem­ber (the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence) as a panacea for its prob­lems.

While the news that the coun­try was out of a tech­ni­cal re­ces­sion was wel­come, the struc­tural is­sues of the econ­omy re­mained to be ad­dressed, said Jonas.

“Our econ­omy is not grow­ing at a de­sired pace; the lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity are high and the state needs to play a large role in eco­nomic re­form,” Jonas said.

Asked why Na­tional Trea­sury had not done much to grow the econ­omy while he and for­mer min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han were at the helm, Jonas said the role of Trea­sury was “largely in the macroe­co­nomic space”.

“Dis­tribut­ing funds and man­ag­ing ex­pen­di­ture and eco­nomic growth should be driven by cre­at­ing an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment through poli­cies”.

“Pol­icy cer­tainty is fun­da­men­tal. Cou­pled with that is cred­i­ble po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship.

“If you look at the JSE, a big chunk of it is pen­sion funds, fol­lowed by for­eign-owned com­pa­nies. We are as vul­ner­a­ble as ever. Yes, we need to trans­form the econ­omy and diver­sify it,” he said.

An­other crit­i­cal area for him, where the gov­ern­ment could not jus­tify “mon­u­men­tal fail­ure”, was ed­u­ca­tion, where a lot of re­form was needed to en­sure it is aligned with the needs of the econ­omy.

Jonas said there was a great need for ar­ti­sans, but big busi­ness should be more in­volved in the cur­ricu­lum and prepa­ra­tion of pupils and stu­dents for the world of work.

But his big­gest con­cern after the cabi­net reshuf­fle, which saw him lose his job, was “how we or­gan­ise civil so­ci­ety to speak with one voice”.

Jonas said the coun­try should guard against re­plac­ing an “elite with an­other elite rul­ing en­tity”, and in­stead deepen en­gage­ments with peo­ple at grass­roots level.

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