Should versus could

2nd September 2016 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Should versus could

In the absence of context, the statement released by Minister in The Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe following the August 16 to 19 Cabinet lekgotla appears fairly benign, even bland. However, against the setting of a divided and weakened African National Congress, a less than unified Cabinet and a far more competitive party political climate, every sentence is open to interpretation. It other words, what ‘should’ mean one thing ‘could’ actually mean something else entirely.

The following two paragraphs are prime examples:
1. Introducing legislative amendments to implement the 30% set- asides (a new Procurement Bill developed by the National Treasury) by March 2017 and unlock the potential of small, medium and micro- enterprises, cooperatives and township and rural enterprises. Implementing the new Preferential Procurement Regulations by end August 2016 as an interim measure to this radical intervention.
2. The lekgotla placed priority on the finalisation of the shareholder ownership model, which will inform the legislative framework for State-owned company (SoC) reform by November 2016. Work will also start for the creation of the Presidential SoCs Coordinating Council which will provide President Jacob Zuma with line of sight on strategic decisions and interventions to create SoCs that play a transformative role in a capable developmental state.

The ‘should’ interpretation of the first paragraph is that government is keen on using its procurement muscle to increasingly support small business, especially enterprises that are owned by black South Africans, women or young people. Indeed, this is the gist of the proposed revisions to the preferential procurement regulations published in draft form by the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer in the National Treasury. The document, which has generated much comment, suggests raising the price threshold for contracts adjudicated strictly in terms of the 80/20-point system or 90/10-point system, where the highest weightings are given to price. The idea is to ensure that 30% of contracts are set aside for small firms.

However, it ‘could’ mean an erosion of procurement prudence and the injection of a degree of discretion at the level of officialdom that might have the unintended consequence of lowering barriers to corruption.

The schism between ‘should’ and ‘could’ is even more acute in the case of the second paragraph. In a less tainted environment, the establishment of a Presidential SoCs Coordinating Council should be viewed as prodevelopment. It should improve coordination and lower the potential for the SoCs to impinge on the competitiveness of enterprises in the private sector they have been created to serve.

But, given the country’s recent dismal record in the area of SoC governance and delivery, such a council could well be little more than a patronage pit, where decision- making is driven not by developmental objectives, but by the narrow self-interests of the political elite and connected businesspeople.