Unprecedented. A pandemic that has the government reeling in its ability to curb the coronavirus contagion through multi-level lockdown scenarios, whilst trying to keep its economic furnace burning to halt the longer-term meltdown that will be difficult to arrest. Society’s attention and concerns are now turning away from the curve and more to the economic casualties, especially those exacerbated through irrational, inconsistent and somewhat draconian decisions by those in authority.
One gets a sense that President Cyril Ramaphosa has done reasonably well thus far, when it comes to rising to the multi-pronged pandemic challenge. However, it appears his inconsistent lieutenants are being ill-advised and letting us all down when it comes to pushing and pulling on the levers to barriers of social and economic activity.
The fact is that our economy was sliding into junk status before the coronavirus disease reached our shores, and we are now faced with rapidly rising job losses with some projecting unemployment will rise high above 40% before the end of winter. Our reality now is that every day that any segment of the economic engine room is impeded or halted, leads to job losses and business closures. This in turn affects every citizen of the country in some way or another.
Questions are now being asked about government’s clarity and rational thinking in decisions that appear to raise unnecessary barriers to social and economic activity, especially where these appear to have negligible impact on containing the pandemic.
Judgment calls are indeed tough to make and casualties will be with us on both battlefronts (pandemic and economy), but it’s not a question of tackling one or the other. It’s about balance and the ability to preserve both lives and jobs that give livelihood and life in the long term.
MASSIVE STIMULUS BRINGS SHORT TERM RELIEF
Last week’s announcement of a R500 billion stimulus package is to be welcomed. It will help to alleviate pressure on the poor and preserve some jobs in the small business and informal sector. But it borrows money from the future and, in doing so, the Treasury's purse is drying up. All the more need to preserve every job and future rand to circulate through the economy.
The reality is that massive injections offer only temporary respite, whilst increasing the incline of the mountain we need to scale. This will indeed require our government to govern differently, with a focus on the two main areas of economic policy adjustments that stimulate growth, and government activity that drastically and meaningfully reduces waste.
In both areas OUTA will work hard to influence and demand new ways to get us out of the hole. We most certainly need to see urgency in government leading the way when it comes to slicing their fat, whilst removing inefficiency and ineptitude throughout all levels of government. Without economic growth and drastic government cuts, most of the R500 billion stimulus will be a long-term noose around our collective necks.
Our Supporters can bank on the fact that OUTA will closely monitor the Covid-19 stimulus package and related spending. We will also put pressure on government at the highest level, holding it to account and demanding that it rises to the need for change in their leadership and spending conduct.
A positive spin-off we must take from this crisis is society’s demand to “reboot” government’s commitment to transparency and accountability, with meaningful actions to show this. But this won't happen on its own and civil society will have to lead the way in defining what it is we mean in our demands for government to act on its mandate to society. The days of lip service and the long delay in corrective conduct must end.
Thank you to all our Supporters for your ongoing contributions and continuous backing of the OUTA team’s work. These are not the easiest of times, but we need your support more than ever as we continue our relentless effort to build a peaceful, prosperous and inclusive South Africa.