Over the last weeks, the nation was summoned to listen to the President of the Republic deliver the Economic Recovery Plan and the tabling of the Medium-Term Budget Policy statement by the Minister of Finance.
These two events were highly anticipated as they were meant to give direction on how we will get ourselves out of our economic quagmire. Both the President and the Finance Minister failed to live up to the expectations of the nation in delivering a bold plan that will take the nation forward. What was presented were the same old ideas that got us in this hole with borrowing more than we had planned to in the beginning of the year.
Over two million fellow South Africans lost their jobs in the last seven months, joining the ranks of over 10 million unemployed as a result of the economic meltdown. Reading through the economic reconstruction and development plan, there is an acknowledgement of this fact, but very little in terms of how we will return to the pre Covid-19 employment numbers.
It is generally accepted that jobs will be created by small businesses rather than by looking at established big businesses. However, reading through the plan, small businesses are only mentioned twice, almost as if it was an afterthought. The plan focuses on the government being at the centre of employment creation, which it should not be. The government should focus on creating an enabling environment for businesses to employ more people.
If we are to reboot and rebuild our economy, the support and development of small businesses should be front and centre of job creation. It is entrepreneurs who start and operate small businesses which will play a meaningful role in rebuilding our economy. In order to support entrepreneurs, who risk their savings to start a business, the government needs to remove the barriers of starting and operating an enterprise legally. In Gauteng for instance, we should be converting our regional Gauteng Enterprise Propeller offices into one-stop shops that bring together the SA Revenue Service, lending institutions, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and other government agencies under one roof. This will ensure that entrepreneurs can receive assistance quickly and will not have to go to many offices to try and comply with the laws of the republic. This should be replicated at a municipal level when it comes to connection of services like water, sewage and electricity.
The social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) – the government, business, labour and civil society – should all commit to paying small businesses within five working days after the services have been rendered. It is said and accepted that cash is king. Small businesses need cash in their bank accounts if they are to continue being employers and driving innovation. Both the government and big business are at fault for taking so long to pay small businesses for services rendered.
For the last five years or so we have heard of the need to extend broadband coverage to townships and rural areas. Five years later very little progress has been in this regard. This is an opportunity for a public-private partnership that the social partners at Nedlac ought to be prioritizing, especially as we have seen how critical connectivity is during the time of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The world is moving fast, and many nations are taking advantage of innovation by entrepreneurs. We should not be left behind, hence the practical support for small businesses is needed. There has been enough talk, it’s time to implement. For the situation we find ourselves in, willing is just not enough – we must act.