With just a year after the massive economic storm that descended on us due to Covid-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to assess whether the economic development house that was built before the storm hit was built on solid ground or on sand.
The strength of a house cannot be judged when there are calm winds blowing but when a storm hits. The pandemic has exposed the structural design of the Department of Economic Development. It could not withstand the strong economic winds blowing against it.
This is evident by the slow response to steady the Gauteng economy in the face of a pandemic. This department was found economically wanting.
Looking at the annual performance of the department and its entities I still do not know how one of the entities tasked with assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs in Gauteng, the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller (GEP), has performed.
The reason I don’t know is that GEP has not submitted its performance report for scrutiny by the economic portfolio committee. None of the committee members know what GEP did in the 2019/20 financial year.
“A house built on sand with a faulty structural design.”
So much rested on the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs during the time of a pandemic, but like a house built on sand, it just fell, and its fall was great.
We should judge the department and its entities not on what they say, but instead on what we see being done.
We have been experiencing very low economic growth in Gauteng. The population is growing faster than the economy. More young people are entering the job market faster than the economy is growing.
Gauteng has in reality been in a job recession for the better part of the last four years. But because there no strong winds were blowing or rain falling, some believed that the economic house was strong.
The signs have been there since 2017 that this economic house is weak and falling apart. Even when GEP was falling and failing, nothing was done.
The only thing that has happened over the last three years are four MECs.
It is the department’s job to ensure at all times that the Gauteng economy is growing, and people are getting jobs.
An agency tasked with assisting with this is the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA). It must help attract investment and facilitate trade.
But it has failed.
If one was to look at the headline performance of the GGDA at 83%, one could be mistaken to think that this important entity has performed relatively well.
But as they say, the devil is in the details.
The performance on the important task of attracting investment is poor by any measure. The target set for the year was R7.5-billion, but the agency only attracted R2.6 billion or just 34%. The same is true for the performance on infrastructure projects.
Like a typical foolish man that built his house on sand, GGDA had to find a scapegoat for its poor performance – this time round it is the Covid-19 lockdown.
That the lockdown only impacted the last five days of the financial year seems to have escaped everyone.
I believe it is time we start weighing the targets that we set. Submission of a quarterly report to the committee should not enjoy the same weight as attracting investment.
In my books attracting investment that creates jobs should weigh over 50% of the entire targets for GGDA.
A heartbreaking sight of the last year or so is the snaking queues outside the South African post offices of young able-bodied men and women waiting for their turn to collect the R350 grant.
The queues that long were last seen in 1994 when we were patiently waiting to usher in democracy in our country.
It has exposed the dire state of the economy and how it is failing a generation of young people.
Ordinarily, the sight should have kicked us into action, but there has been minimal action to rebuild the economy so that the generation of young people is not condemned to a life of poverty.
I say rebuild because the original house that was built on sand has fallen, the new economic house needs to be built on solid rock.
An economic house that is built on a rock is the one that can attract investment that creates jobs, creates a safe space for entrepreneurs and innovators to launch new ideas into the market.
. Gana is the DA Gauteng MPL