Considering the framework for policy and delivery in SA - the NPC and more

23rd September 2009 By: Idasa, an African Democracy Institute

Since President Jacob Zuma announced a restructured cabinet shortly after the April election, the future functions of government have remained largely unclear. Moreover the political landscape with regards to influence over policy matters has been even hazier. However, the lay of the land has become much clearer since Minister's in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel and Collins Chabane, released two green papers for public discussion on 4 September. The first, presented by Minister Manuel and titled Green Paper on National strategic Planning, concerned the newly created National Planning Commission (NPC). The second presented by Minister Chabane and titled Green Paper on Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, concerned the Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation component. This memo seeks to discuss some of the structures that are envisaged in the documents, with a view to participating in the public discussion of these documents. And also to posit some initial thoughts on the politics surrounding the release of these green papers and the impact on the political terrain.

The envisaged structure of National Strategic Planning will have four main components.

First, is the National Planning Commission itself with Manuel as its political head and chair. Commissioners will be appointed by the President and said to be people with high levels of expertise drawn from various fields to aid the NPC in its planning function. Possible commissioners being tipped for positions by the media include Mamphele Ramphele, Bobby Godsell and Vincent Maphai. However, it remains to be seen whether the people appointed will indeed be drawn from outside government and the ruling party circles.

Second, is Ministerial Committee on Planning located in Cabinet and appointed by the President, also chaired by Manuel. The President and Deputy President are to be ex officio members. The Planning Committee is expected to do as follows:

"in addition to processing the work of the NPC, this committee will provide political guidance to the planning process, support the planning ministry in driving strategic planning and ensure consistent and integrated programmes across multiple layers of policy-making, planning and implementation."

Third, is the Ministry for National Planning, currently headed by Minister Manuel. The Ministry will be

"Acting with the authority, under the guidance of and on behalf of the President... be responsible for coordinating the planning process, leading the work of planning across government and in the NPC and managing government's interaction with social partners. Politically, the ministry will be accountable for the delivery of the planning outputs and products..."

The fourth component will be a National Planning Secretariat that will provide administrative and research support to the NPC.

Work of the NPC
According to the documents, the NPC once appointed, will have four main outputs.

The first will be the creation of a National Plan dubbed Vision 2025. This will be the blueprint for the developmental path that South Africa is to take. This is where the commissioners input are expected to be key to the work of the NPC.

The second output is to retain the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) or 5 year plan that maps out Government's business and priorities over the coming mandated term of office.

The third outputs will be to release research and reports on key trends and indicators (similar to the Development Indicators released by the Presidency since 2007) with regularity that impact long-term development. These include "demographic trends, global climate change, human resource development, future energy mix and food security."

The fourth output for the NPC will be to draft frameworks for spatial planning. This refers directly to the spatial legacies of Apartheid whereby lower income earners reside great distances from their places of work, thus continually reflecting the racialised spatial segregation of that era. This in essence would mean the NPC would have great influence over spatial and town planning at all three tires of government.

Performance and Monitoring
If the planning of the NPC is the yardstick, then the envisaged role of the Ministry of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation (MPME) is to ensure that these development goals are met. Minister Chabane will head the MPME and is expected to work towards building a performance culture across all government institutions. The MPME will focus on the 5 priority areas highlighted by the Zuma administration and contained in the ANC election manifesto, including crime, health care, education, job creation and rural development.

The MPME will have a Delivery Unit (DU) that will be tasked with pinpointing institutions or areas of government where intervention is needed in order to ensure that targets are met. The MPME will also be responsible for tracking progress, which will include progress updates to the President every six months.

Chabane highlighted a number of reasons for the lack of performance across state institutions, despite significant expenditure in a number of areas such as education for instance. These included lack of political will, inadequate leadership, management weaknesses, inappropriate institutional design and misaligned decision rights.

However, while this is all welcome, it remains to be seen whether these structures will be successful in increasing performance particularly at local government, where most social delivery occurs. Minister Chabane's recent visit with a delegation to address the social concerns of Siyathemba, Balfour, is a good example of the type of intervention discussed in the green paper.

The release of these discussion documents may not only have an impact on how government does business, but also on the political terrain within the administration of President Zuma, as well as the country. The post-election 2009 period has been characterised by greater political contestation than previously seen during the Mbeki administration. Much of this contestation centres round influence over policy matters. This was a key issue at Polokwane in 2007 and in large part propelled Jacob Zuma to the Presidency with the support of ANC alliance partners in COSATU and the SACP.

But President Zuma's Cabinet is a mixed bag and contrary to pre-election speculation is by no means a reflection of a radical policy shift to satiate the demands of the Left. Although the inclusion of key figures from the tri-partite alliance in Ministers Patel (Economic Development), Davies (Trade and Industry), Cronin (Transport) and Nzimande (Higher Education) does indicate that Zuma wished to make a clean break with leadership style exercised by his predecessor.

Nevertheless, this has left these players juxtaposed against other key players in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Minister Trevor Manuel. The creation of the NPC was lobbied for by a number of these alliance partners, notable among who was Deputy-Minister Cronin. However, the appointment of Manuel, who suffers an acrimonious relationship with the Left, as the political head of this institution has clearly thrown a spanner in the proverbial works. Thus, control over the gears of government policy was by no means captured by key figures in the alliance. And until the release of these discussion documents, it was largely unclear which members of Cabinet would hold the greatest sway over President Zuma and thus in turn, government and policy.

But Minister Manuel and Chabane have clearly been hard at work behind the scenes creating powerful roles for their Ministries in the future functioning of government. The proposed structure of the NPC, along with the proposed powers and functions, would leave the Ministers in the Presidency as the de facto gatekeepers to government policy. Although the common refrain from government and the Presidency is that it is the ANC that decides policy, it is government that decides prioritisation. And in the context of the country's first recession in 17 years as well as a shortfall of approximately R80 billion in revenue, Zuma's administration will have to prioritise. This will leave the NPC and ministers Manuel and Chabane with significant sway over these decisions. The Ministers have essentially mapped out the future architecture of the way in which government will pursue it development goals. Moreover, their tabling of the documents to Parliament with the request that these proposals be debated will manufacture much needed consensus and legitimacy if these structures are to stand a chance.

The Green Papers have been tabled before Parliament and it would seem that most opposition parties are in full support of these initiatives. Although, one wonders whether much of this good faith is due to the popularity enjoyed by Manuel as a long serving Finance Minister and the reputation of Chabane as a tough task master. The governments social partners (read COSATU and the SACP) may also have a say on matters, but given the recent co-option of leading figures into government, it is unlikely that their resistance will be successful, particularly given the role many of these figures played in lobbying for the NPC.

The fractures have already emerged with special resolutions on the NPC being drafted by COSATU affiliates in the run-up to its 10 Congress to be held between 21 and 24 September. Meanwhile, some Cabinet Ministers have already indicated that the NPC will have to be consulted on key issues such as South Africa's energy mix, which would have deep implications for continued availability of cheap electricity as well as in key industries such as coal mining. Moreover, influence over economic policy remains a bug bear and whether Minister Ebrahim Patel will be able to establish his Ministry with enough technical expertise in time to wage in on the debate, time will tell. Thus, there will be fierce contestation on the Green Paper and the question begs, who will break through the dead-locks? President Zuma has been unwilling to wage in on key discussions thus far and it may very well come down to the political nous showed by the various players within Cabinet and the broader Tripartite Alliance.

The consultative process on the documents called for by the Ministers in the Presidency will begin. But it will require careful consideration and scrutiny from Parliament, as well as the creation of an ad hoc Committee to exercise oversight throughout the process. But this oversight must continue beyond the consultative process. Public participation via civil society and other institutions is critical in this regard.

The real test lies in the actual outputs, that is improved and more effective delivery. Questions remain whether the creation of these entities will indeed produce results considering the malaise within the public service and local government. This is where the MPME is most crucial. Performance monitoring will only work if there is a political will from the executive to give this Ministry the necessary weight to act on its interventions. Public participation in the establishment of the NPC and its work is another critical component. If the NPC is to produce a national plan, there must be proper consultation and participation if all citizens are to buy into the work of the NPC.

1. Independent Online, Manuel eyes best brains for Commission, 8 September 2009. Available at
2. The Presidency, Questions and Answers on the release of the Green Paper: National Strategic Planning, 4 September 2009. Available at:
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. The experience of the institutional culture of Treasury and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) may be important here. Much of Minister Manuel and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's popularity is related to their stewardship over these key institutions and the subsequent perception that these are the best run state institutions. Hence, the creation of the MPME and this renewed focus on performance.
6. This will be done in the form of a performance letter from the President to the head of the respective institution or department. This would be followed by sustained support and monitoring from the MPME. Chabane also made it clear that repeated failure to achieve targets following such intervention would eventually lead to dismissal or action by the President.
7. Ministerial Visit to Balfour, 7 September 2009. Available at:
8. The drafty resolutions criticize the Green Paper on National Strategic Planning as being too technocratic and placing far too much power in the hand of the Minister of National Planning.
9. Minister of Public Enterprises, Briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, 15 September 2009.
10. Business Day, COSATU guns for ‘imperial' Manuel, 16 September 2009. Available at:

Written by: Justin Sylvester, researcher within Idasa's PIMS programme