Sunday Times

Pub­lic pol­icy should be re­spon­sive to chang­ing re­al­i­ties

And don’t shoot the min­is­ter — the cabi­net has to ap­prove pro­pos­als

- By BUSANI NGCAWENI Ngcaweni is head of pol­icy and re­search in the pres­i­dency. The views ex­pressed here are pri­vate.

● Two re­cent un­re­lated events prompted this re­flec­tion. First: the de­bate about the gov­ern­ment chang­ing visa and travel reg­u­la­tions in an at­tempt to ease the move­ment of peo­ple, im­port crit­i­cal skills and boost tourism num­bers.

Many peo­ple wel­comed this pol­icy shift, ar­gu­ing that the 2015 reg­u­la­tions were ill-con­sid­ered and re­spon­si­ble for neg­a­tive growth in the tourism sec­tor. The im­ple­ment­ing min­is­ter, Malusi Gi­gaba, re­ceived the short end of the stick. In so­cial me­dia he be­came a mas­cot of poor pub­lic pol­i­cy­mak­ing, blamed for al­legedly ig­nor­ing ev­i­dence when in­tro­duc­ing the 2015 reg­u­la­tions. It didn’t mat­ter even to the eru­dite (who ought to know some­thing about how the state func­tions) that the pol­icy pro­vi­sion was a cabi­net de­ci­sion, not Gi­gaba’s in­ven­tion.

What is cer­tain from the visa saga is that the 2015 reg­u­la­tions had mixed re­sults and there­fore re­quired amend­ment. The sen­ti­ment was clear from in­dus­try stake­hold­ers, econ­o­mists and mem­bers of the pub­lic. Although pub­lic pol­icy purists might ar­gue against re­ly­ing on so­cial me­dia to make con­clu­sive de­ci­sions about the per­for­mance of pub­lic pol­icy, the neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment there can’t be ig­nored. Af­ter all, this is a form of me­dia, al­beit un­medi­ated by the tyranny of news­room ed­i­to­rial struc­tures.

Let’s has­ten to state that a fair num­ber of peo­ple re­ceived news of the pol­icy ad­just­ment with cau­tion. They warned of un­in­tended con­se­quences, of po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists gain­ing ac­cess to our coun­try (via visa-ex­empted coun­tries) and the risk of child traf­fick­ing..

The sec­ond event in­volves the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to pub­lic vi­o­lence in the Jo­han­nes­burg town­ship of West­bury. The un­rest was sparked by the mur­der of a mother caught in al­leged gang vi­o­lence cross­fire.

The com­mu­nity of West­bury mo­bilised street protests ex­press­ing their anger at ram­pant gang vi­o­lence in the area, which they at­tribute to high un­em­ploy­ment, poor de­liv­ery of mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices and in­ad­e­quate polic­ing. Po­lice min­is­ter Bheki Cele im­me­di­ately vis­ited the area and held pub­lic meet­ings. He has since re­turned there twice and an­nounced a num­ber of mea­sures such as in­creas­ing the num­ber of po­lice of­fi­cers and pri­ori­tis­ing the de­tec­tion and ar­rest of sus­pected gang mem­bers. Cele’s re­spon­sive­ness is be­ing widely ac­knowl­edged.

A col­league in the se­nior man­age­ment of the Gaut­eng pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, Yoliswa Makhasi, shared chill­ing ob­ser­va­tions of West­bury af­ter vis­it­ing the area as part of Cele’s in­ter­ven­tion. Makhasi wrote that the area has:

● Many (il­le­gal) dump­ing sites through­out the com­mu­nity, mak­ing one won­der when garbage was last re­moved by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Crime and grime go to­gether; ● Poor street light­ing and un­cut grass, fer­tile con­di­tions for crime;

● Preva­lent al­co­hol and drug abuse;

● Se­ri­ous and vi­o­lent crime, in­ad­e­quate polic­ing, al­leged po­lice cor­rup­tion and col­lu­sion with crim­i­nals, as well as gang­ster­ism; and

● High lev­els of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment.

In ad­di­tion to these poor pub­lic pol­icy out­comes, the com­mu­nity has lamented con­stant wa­ter and elec­tric­ity cuts, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture and lim­ited pub­lic trans­port. Schools in the area are not help­ing chil­dren break the cy­cle of in­ter-gen­er­a­tional poverty.

We re­call these com­plaints to make a point that it is im­por­tant for pub­lic pol­icy to be re­spon­sive to chang­ing re­al­i­ties and the needs of the peo­ple.

We learn from lit­er­a­ture that pub­lic pol­icy should be re­viewed ev­ery three to five years. Such re­views may re­sult in sus­tain­ing pol­icy di­rec­tion or mak­ing nec­es­sary amend­ments.

This has been the case with the travel reg­u­la­tions.

Poor ed­u­ca­tion in pub­lic pol­icy and democ­racy is the rea­son there is some­times con­fu­sion about changes to pub­lic pol­icy. The state should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­creas­ing pub­lic aware­ness on pol­icy-mak­ing pro­cesses, es­pe­cially on how de­ci­sions are taken.

For ex­am­ple, some mem­bers of the pub­lic don’t know that min­is­ters do not have sole au­thor­ity to de­ter­mine pub­lic pol­icy. All de­ci­sions are taken by the cabi­net, which can ap­prove, veto or amend a pro­posal.

At the same time the min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing pol­icy takes the flak or credit.

In the case of West­bury, it is clear from both of­fi­cial feed­back and pub­lic com­men­tary that our brothers and sis­ters in that lo­cale are vic­tims of poor pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion and demo­cratic in­dif­fer­ence or po­lit­i­cal ne­glect.

Poli­cies de­signed to ad­dress spa­tial in­jus­tice have not worked for the peo­ple of West­bury, as much as they have not worked for the peo­ple in the hos­tels and peri-ur­ban ar­eas.

Fur­ther, so­cial co­he­sion in­ter­ven­tions have not worked, hence the sen­ti­ment of racial ex­clu­sion.

And, as the story goes for many poor and work­ing-class neigh­bour­hoods, lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­hu­man­ises peo­ple by fail­ing to pro­vide qual­ity and con­sis­tent ba­sic ser­vices, as de­scribed by the col­league above. Con­se­quently, so­cial pol­icy fail­ures be­come polic­ing is­sues putting pres­sure on the over­stretched po­lice depart­ment.

Per­haps, as we move to­wards mark­ing 25 years of democ­racy, we should pause and think of cre­ative and ef­fec­tive ways of rais­ing aware­ness about pub­lic pol­i­cy­mak­ing pro­cesses, in­clud­ing the role of the cit­i­zens in shap­ing pol­icy di­rec­tion.

Equally, pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to recog­nise the de­hu­man­is­ing con­di­tions of cit­i­zens and take proac­tive steps to change these.

Meet­ing the ba­sic needs of cit­i­zens, such as reg­u­lar refuse re­moval, and teach­ers be­ing in class on time, are build­ing blocks to­wards restor­ing the dig­nity of the peo­ple, stripped away by decades of racial op­pres­sion and post-apartheid struc­tural un­em­ploy­ment which pro­duce poverty and in­equal­ity.

 ?? Pic­ture: Alaister Rus­sell ?? Po­lice at­tempt to ar­rest a pro­tes­tor while be­ing pelted with rocks dur­ing un­rest in West­bury, Jo­han­nes­burg, this week.
Pic­ture: Alaister Rus­sell Po­lice at­tempt to ar­rest a pro­tes­tor while be­ing pelted with rocks dur­ing un­rest in West­bury, Jo­han­nes­burg, this week.

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