"Rhetoric is not important. Actions are." (Nelson Mandela)

Johannesburg, 12 April 2013 – A meeting to assess practical ways for business to engage in implementing the NDP successfully was held at KPMG Wanooka Place in Parktown, Johannesburg yesterday, facilitated by KPMG and Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), with the commissioners of the National Development Plan (NDP), including The Honourable Minister of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Trevor Manuel, and several prominent business leaders.

Minister Manuel listened to suggestions from BLSA and KPMG around priority areas of engagement, and gave his perspectives on the role of business in supporting the objectives of the NDP – moving from words to measurable, prioritised implementation.

In opening the session, Moses Kgosana (Chief Executive of KPMG in South Africa) emphasised the firm's involvement in, and commitment to, the success of the NDP. "KPMG has been actively involved in recognising and supporting the NDP from the early stages – now over a year ago – when Government, through the National Planning Commission, first sought feedback from business," he said, indicating that the firm had compiled a workbook and hosted the milestone 'Extraordinary Dialogue' event to facilitate the discussion around business' engagement with the NDP. KPMG consolidated the response and submitted a formal document called the Business Report to the NPC in May 2012." Following the NPC's process of wide consultation and active input by numerous stakeholders, Kgosana called the subsequent acceptance of the NDP, by Government and the ruling ANC "a gargantuan step forward for our country".

"However," he indicated, "as is the case with any good plan, the most important part of its success – effective implementation – is now ahead of us. All of us."

Saki Macozoma, President of BLSA, followed on from this, saying that BLSA had established working groups on specific objectives within the NDP. "The objectives of BLSA's working groups are to promote awareness of, and pursue delivery of, the NDP. Secondly, to set up core teams related to employment creation and education.... Thirdly, to play an active and constructive role, and add value, on the prioritising action required to achieve Vision 2030. And fourthly, to brainstorm ideas and share these with government through the NPC."

Expanding on these objectives, Leslie Maasdorp, Chairman of the BLSA NDP Working Group, described the areas in which BLSA believes it can add the most value. According to Maasdorp, business can play a role in popularising and embedding the NDP as a lasting vision for all South African citizens. He discussed such actions as educating employees of BLSA member organisations on what the NDP is, aligning business resources to the NDP's implementation requirements, and enhancing the effectiveness of business' Corporate Social Investment spend on education and skills development.

Maasdorp also spoke about the need for a fundamental review of the country's labour relations system. "I think we can all agree that over the last number of years... there have been some significant failings in the labour relations system and factions in the labour market overall," he said. These failings would need to be acknowledged and addressed in order to move forward.

Finally, Maasdorp spoke to the importance of lowering the cost of business, in particular citing regulatory constraints that lead to slow decision making as a challenge that could be addressed quite quickly.

Tshidi Mokgabudi, Chairman for KPMG Advisory and Lead Partner for KPMG's engagement with the NDP Emphasised that "The NDP is not a plan for Government; it is a plan for society – for all of us. As a firm, KPMG have agreed to focus on four priority areas in terms of our support to the NDP –  namely, the economy and infrastructure and supporting urban settlements, Public Sector reform, health and education," she said, indicating that these areas were chosen because they could benefit most from the particular strengths of KPMG in South Africa.

She explained that KPMG would be actively seeking to enable redesign in accountability and performance in the Public Sector through training and up-skilling. The firm would also produce and share thought leadership in these four areas, helping to uncover the lessons South Africa as a nation could learn from similar international challenges and solutions.

Mokgabudi emphasised the importance of facilitating dialogue on implementation process, and committed that the firm would produce an annual survey to monitor performance and delivery against the NDP objectives.

Minister Manuel then gave his response to the suggestions from BLSA and KPMG, saying that the fact that a discussion on implementation was taking place in itself already showed commitment as a nation to making the NDP happen. "The first test has been passed this morning," he said, "and the key challenge now is to move beyond broad strokes."

The Minister noted that the NDP would need to be implemented under some challenging economic circumstances but that it was important not to be consumed by morbidity. He also emphasised that the plan was not linear, as several of its key objectives are interlinked and have direct impact on one another's successful implementation.

He acknowledged and agreed with the challenges identified around the labour market, and the widening disparity between education in wealthier schools and that on offer in poorer areas.

On the issue of skills development, the Minister issued a challenge. "How do we say to business: Take back responsibility?" He indicated that it was important for business to demand better service from the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) in exchange for skills levies paid, saying that business had allowed the SETAs not to deliver. He went on to connect the underinvestment in the development of artisan skills to the challenges the country is experiencing in the labour market.

Programme clarity and the difficulty of change, the Minister indicated, was another key challenge. "The way in which we've built the Public Sector built in a fair amount of change aversion," he said, indicating that an overemphasis on compliance and clean audits had in part led to a lack of emphasis on actual performance. The thinking seems to have become "If you do nothing but achieve a clean audit, you're in a good space."

This thinking had lead to a loss of inertia and increased change aversion in the Public Sector, which is be an important hurdle to overcome. Using education as an example, the Minister indicated that there are instances where a lack of pressure on public servants, like government teachers, to add value in their roles was the result of a lack of, or misplaced, accountability. Change would be difficult, he said, but is necessary.

He is realistic about the way forward, however. "There is no money to do any new things," the Minister said, "so the question becomes 'How do we transform with what we have?'" In answering this question, he talked about a change of ownership, in which corporations and provinces are empowered to drive change.

In closing the session, Bobby Godsell, Chairman of BLSA, said that if the assassination of Chris Hani was the moment of greatest threat for South Africa, then the NDP is the country's moment of greatest opportunity. "We are going to need leaders," Godsell said, "and we are looking to build a nation, not to score points."

"The question cannot be 'How will you as Government implement the plan?' It must be 'How will we all - as citizens - implement the plan?'"

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.