On the 27th of September, President Ramaphosa announced the appointment of the 18-member Presidential Economic Advisory Council. According to the Presidency, the non-statutory, independent body is mandated with ensuring “greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy”. It is also expected to ensure that both government and society are well-equipped to respond to “changing economic circumstances”.
At the first sitting of the Advisory Council, President Ramaphosa announced that he will soon be appointing two more councils to look into investment and state-owned entities. How these councils will work with other committees, institutions and government bodies already in place remains to be seen. Last year, the President appointed committees, several advisors and hosted various summits to solicit ideas and inputs into policies in place to revive the country’s stagnant economy. With his already existing advisors and summits that have taken place, is President Ramaphosa admitting that both he and his government have no clue on how to get the economy back on track, hence the need to establish more Advisory Councils?
Soliciting ideas and expertise from persons and bodies outside of government is necessary and not uncommon. However, there is also such a thing called over-consultation. President Ramaphosa’s consensus-seeking leadership is not doing him any good. While it is commendable to want to include as many people as possible in decision-making processes, President Ramaphosa must also accept that South Africa does not lack for ideas. All the good ideas in the world have been conceived in the recent past. What has always lacked is the required boldness to take such decisions and implement them post-haste. In a way, it is unlikely that any of the Advisory Councils will yield new knowledge. Unfortunately, the longer government spends in extended consultation, the narrow the window for the President to make the necessary decisions that will move the country out of the doldrums.
President Ramaphosa has stated that he fully supports all recommendations put forward in the National Treasury’s economic strategy document. In his inaugural weekly newsletter, the President announced that government intends to finalise a clear economic growth strategy, feeding off contributions from the paper. One hopes that the economic strategy will come with clear implementation plans and timelines that will assist in monitoring and ensuring accountability.
The President will do well to avoid talk shops and entertain endless suggestions on what needs to be done. After all, during the campaign trail prior to the national elections, he and his party seemed to have done a thorough diagnosis of what went wrong and had solutions to solve the country’s problems. All the country cares about now is ‘fewer conversations and a little more action’, especially as we seem to be falling deeper into the economic abyss. Setting up a body to counsel the country into accepting increasing unemployment, inequality and poverty as the norm simply won’t cut it.