Government-business partnership makes slow but steady progress

Connie Queline

Government-business partnership makes slow but steady progress

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JEREMY MAGGS: At a meeting with senior business leaders on the partnership between government and business, President Cyril Ramaphosa says, and I quote, ‘We are beginning to see the tangible results of this collaboration in reduced load shedding, improved performance of our rail network and ports, and a reduction in security incidents targeting energy and logistics infrastructure’.

One of those who is part of the process is Martin Kingston, chair of Business for South Africa (B4SA) steering committee, and joins us now. Martin, a very warm welcome to you. Now, the progress that President Ramaphosa is speaking about, I would contend, isn’t the lived reality of most South Africans. Are you able to provide any specific examples of how the collaboration is starting to pay dividends?

MARTIN KINGSTON: Yes, I can, Jeremy, good afternoon to you and your listeners. The reality is that the partnership’s been up and running now for some nine months. It took time to assemble the structures, the systems, the governance, to resource it appropriately and to make sure that we had agreement on what were key targets and actually to make those targets publicly available and to hold ourselves as government and business to account in the public eye.

If we look at energy, one of the key areas, and we all suffer that on a daily basis, the reality is that load shedding, although we’re still experiencing it, is some 66% down on the equivalent period last year, Stages 4 and above, some 80% down.

We’re committing really to see an end to load shedding in its current form by the end of this year, the beginning of 2025, Stage 1 or below.

In the case of transport and logistics, which is crippling, as we all know, our bulk commodity exporters, whether it be agricultural minerals or indeed other critical goods. We’ve seen a 45% reduction in vessels that are anchored outside the port of Durban and indeed, we’ve seen a 36% reduction in waiting times. Not enough, but we’re making progress.

In the case of crime and corruption, it’s been the most difficult to put together, obviously, because of the sensitivity of the issues and making sure that we properly characterise business’s role and stay within appropriate areas of responsibility.

There also, even on the network corridor, we’ve seen a 65% reduction in criminal incidents.

So in all of these areas, we are seeing tangible progress, but it’s not as wide and as fast as all of us need, particularly if we’re going to be able to improve confidence levels, which is key to stimulating investment, and that is what’s going to create economic growth on a sustainable basis, and the employment that is absolutely critical for the country.

JEREMY MAGGS: Martin, all will accept that there are no quick fixes in this respect, but you and, I guess, government would need to acknowledge the growing level of frustration among business and individuals in this country.

MARTIN KINGSTON: Yeah, there is absolutely a very high level of frustration, and we’re very mindful of that. Our view, Jeremy, is that if we can actually harness the skills, capabilities of business, both technical skills as well as resources that can be put at the disposal of the country, then we can make a difference.

But the damage that we have endured as a country is very deep, and it’s going to take a significant amount of time and resource to actually change that trajectory.

So, as I said, putting in place the structures and the processes was necessary, but that’s not adequate to give the reassurance that’s required to the public at large. It’s only when they feel it very directly. As you say, in respect of businesses, which have been threatened effectively since the pandemic, as you and I have discussed before, that we see a real change, including the implementation of structural reform. There again, we’re working with government to ensure that that reform is actually not just decisions are taken, but the reform itself is implemented, but it’s going to take time to feed through. I’m afraid we need to be patient, while seeing that there is progress and there has indeed been progress over the past six to nine months.

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JEREMY MAGGS: While the request is made for patience, what is also happening is that people are taking the law into their own hands on the one side and secondly, they’re just simply going it alone and implementing their own measures of recovery.

MARTIN KINGSTON: Well, you’re right. People are privatising, if you like, the provision of services to themselves, both individuals and businesses, if they can afford to do so, whether that’s rooftop solar or generating their own power, whether it’s accessing their own water, whether it’s providing their own security, let alone obviously further afield in the context of private education and indeed healthcare. But that’s a very small segment of the country. It’s actually not going to address the needs of the vast majority who can’t afford it and can’t access those services.

Read: Home, business solar installs doubled to 5GW last year

Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the state to be able to provide it both to individuals, to communities, and indeed to businesses, in particular small and medium-sized businesses that are most vulnerable and most at risk. Once again, we need to make sure that we focus on that, we keep that at the centre of our attention so that actually when we make real and effective change, it impacts upon those who are most deserving and most in need as quickly as possible.

JEREMY MAGGS: Martin Kingston, I acknowledge that part of your remit is to talk it up, so to speak, but how are you making sure that business is going to buy into this optimism that it is going to be all right, albeit over an extended timeline?

MARTIN KINGSTON: Yeah, well, I have to say, Jeremy, I wish I was talking it up. I think it’s a pragmatic view that I’m expressing rather than optimistic view. We’ve got 135-plus CEOs of businesses across the depth and breadth of the country who’ve committed to this process. We’ve got some 450 individuals who are currently being either deployed directly or indirectly to these processes concerned. There’s not a single business where it’s not in their vested interest to ensure that the areas that we’re covering of crime and corruption, of transport and logistics and energy recover as quickly as possible and are addressed because we can’t have people either taking the law into their own hands or hoping that on their own, somehow or other, they can fix the issues, they couldn’t.

It’s only by leveraging the collective business resource that we’re going to make a difference in partnering with the government.

I should say in that regard, whoever the government is, we’re mindful of the fact that there are elections that are coming up in the next three months. We’ve actually planned into 2025. The elections will come and go. We continue to partner in the national interest with whoever will be the government of the day.

JEREMY MAGGS: Martin Kingston, chair of the Business for South Africa steering committee, thank you very much indeed.

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