2009 Development Indicators Publication: briefing by Minister Manuel & comment from academics
24 Sep 2009
Briefing by the Minister
Hon Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency, briefed the media on the report on the Development Indicators for 2009. It provided a framework to present aggregate data on progress in human development. The document looked at challenges regarding economic growth and transformation, employment, poverty and inequality, household and community assets, the health sector, education, social cohesion, safety and security, international relations and good governance.
Statement by Professor Haroon Bhorat
Prof Bhorat, Economist at the University of Cape Town, stated that the data in the report reflected on both the long and short term. The long term scenario went to the core of the South African growth path and it centered on the relationship between growth, poverty and equality. There was uninterrupted growth before the recession. The growth was not “spectacular”, when compared for instance to China, but at least it was positive. Over the past few years, there was a decline in income-poverty levels. However, over the same period, income inequality also increased. South Africa was the most consistently unequal society in the world. Income inequality was bad for growth and undermined the process of growth. This was a key long-term challenge, which showed worrying trends.
In terms of the short-term analysis, 362 000 jobs were lost between the second quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2009. The majority of job losses occurred in the informal sector, and these were dissipated across the entire country. Most retrenchments affected African males between the ages of 15 and 24, those employed in the retail sector and those that did not complete primary or secondary education. The government had to look at how to align short-term interventions and anti-recession strategies to address that were truly being affected by the recession.
Statement by Professor David Sanders
Prof David Sanders, Public Health Professor, University of the Western Cape, welcomed the publication of the document as well as the key health indicators. He also welcomed the new atmosphere of transparency and openness. However, he felt that the data was “massaged” to give a “positive spin” on the state of the country.
The report looked at life expectancy and infant mortality. There was no evidence that there was any improvement. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a report showing that South Africa was one of nine countries where infant mortality was increasing. The data showed that even though malaria had not been eradicated completely, it had been reduced to very low levels. In terms of HIV/AIDS, most people could agree that there was no reason for South Africans to believe that there was any significant change. Prof Sanders stated that people should have been worried when they heard that HIV prevalence had been reduced. “Prevalence” meant the total number of infected people in the population. If the Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) was working, HIV prevalence would have increased for a while as more people would have been surviving. He thought it was very important that the government be honest about statistics. The data depicting malnutrition showed that there was a decrease in the number of children suffering from severe malnutrition. He found this difficult to believe, as he was involved in training people, in all nine provinces, on the management of malnutrition. All the clinicians have told him that malnutrition had increased, either due to deterioration in diets, or due to increases in disease. This in turn was caused by multi-sectoral failure, especially with respect to food security and lack of water, sanitation and housing, all of which had a bearing on health.
He suggested that given this situation, government had to collect more indicators that documented the performance of the health sector. Currently, the performance of the South African health sector was poor despite the amount of spending in the sector. The poor performance of human resources on all levels affected the health and other labour intensive sectors. This had to be attended to urgently. The situation was gloomy and the government had to face the problems “head on”.
Statement by Ms Judith February
Ms Judith February, Head of Political Information and Monitoring Services: Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), stated that the data showed that South Africans were living through a seismic shift in the political landscape. Uncertainty was reflected in the issues around social cohesion and good governance.
Social cohesion included the idea of “voice” and accountability. Some of the data did not reflect adequately the accountability deficit that could be seen in society. Even though there were high levels of participation during national election times, there were concerns about the turn out for local government elections. There was no data reflecting the number of young people under the age of 35 who had participated in the elections. A greater number of individuals seemed to be joining other organisations. There was a high level of participation in religious organisations. It would be very important to study the turnout for the local government elections in 2011.
Issues around hope for the future and people’s confidence in the future were reflected in recent fiscal events. The impact of these, the way that public hysteria affected the national psyche, and the way in which people viewed themselves and the country were important in establishing cohesion. This was a challenge that government had to face.
Ms February found the good governance indicators in the report to be limiting, as they did not indicate whether people trusted public institutions, how much knowledge they had of them and whether they could use those institutions. Audits of municipalities were, clearly, a major problem. Only 58% of the South African population was satisfied with service delivery. She did not believe that this was due to bad government communication, but government had to listen to people’s concerns. Communities were also affected by inequality. Government should be looking at municipal audits, and the reasons for the qualifications, whether this was due to lack of adherence to the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) or the wrong people being put in the wrong positions. The human resource issue was one of the biggest challenges that the government faced.
There was poor public perception of the way corruption was being fought, which was not helped by the kinds of issues that the country faced. A serious amount of work had to be done in order for the government to raise the country’s perception of the legitimacy of many of the country’s institutions.
Statement by Prof Ivor Chipkin
Prof Ivor Chipkin, Chief Research Specialist, Human Sciences Research Council, stated that the concept of social cohesion was less nebulous. He believed there had been remarkable achievements in the way that South Africans behaved in the political domain. The fact that there was a very high turnout during national elections was a great achievement. However, this did not translate into a fusion of democratic norms and how people treated each other. He believed that there were many different dynamics related to the state of governance in the country. Governance was highly uneven in the country in general. This affected service delivery. The types of social institutions were important.
Q: A journalist asked what period of time the indicators covered, and what were the fundamental differences in the interpretations of the data. A further question was asked as to whether there was, in fact, a “massaging” of the data.
A: The Minister answered that the data dated back as far as 1994 to the present. The Presidency thought it was important to show the data sources that were used, so any queries about the data or its interpretation could be answered by going back to the original sources. The information was reflected as accurately as possible.
Q: The point was made that HIV prevalence was declining, and the question was whether more people were dying.
A: The Minister stated that the Presidency would have to consider if the right terminology was being used when there was reference to “prevalence”. The data showed that there was a slight decrease and a slow down in the growth of HIV prevalence in the country. This decline started about three years ago.
Prof Sanders stated that this could mean that more people were dying. “Prevalence”, in his view, referred to the total number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in the country. The drop could mean either that more people were dying, or that less people were getting infected. It was good news to see that there was a small decrease in the number of cases reported for younger age groups. However, this information was not sufficient to account for a decrease in prevalence, unless there were many people dying as well. There were almost 7000 people on anti-retroviral therapy, and this should have firstly pushed the prevalence numbers up, since it could be expected that people who were infected were living longer due to the therapy, but then there should be a decline as efforts were made to prevent any new cases.
Q: A journalist asked how many of the 500 000 jobs that President Jacob Zuma promised had been created.
A: Mr Alan Hirsh, Head of Policy Coordination and Advisory Services in the Presidency, stated that 83 000 job opportunities were created in the first quarter and more employment creation initiatives were currently being implemented.
The Minister stated that the commitment to create 500 000 job opportunities was made at the end of June. Unfortunately, between the last two quarters of the previous financial year and the first quarter of this year, there was a period of great uncertainty. Part of the difficulty regarded the Occupation Specific Dispensation and the impact that it had on provincial budgets. The uncertainty about the change of government contributed to this. A meeting had been held with all the provincial cabinets to reflect on their performance and to discuss where all the new job opportunities would emanate.
Q: A journalist asked, in terms of the indicators, where South Africa was performing well and where it was performing badly.
A: The Minister stated that this was an interesting question. It was difficult to have absolute measures on which to answer the question. The Presidency was worried that modernisation of management systems had seen the devolution of decisions about procurement within departments. People’s perception of the institution of democracy in society had to be fundamental.
Q: A journalist asked what Brazil had done to reduce its levels of inequality.
A: Prof Bhorat stated that Brazil had just managed to “turn the corner” regarding inequality. The biggest difference could be attributed to this country’s conditional social grants. There was a grant offered to households on condition that the children attend educational institutions. This helped the social grant system in Brazil greatly. The other factor was that the grants managed to include the informal sector in the growth process. This contributed to the reduction in inequality.
Mr Hirsh added that South Africa’s social grants were considerably larger than Brazil’s, so South Africa should have had a bigger impact. Brazil had achieved more of an impact in some economic areas of transformation, particularly in responding creatively to land reform systems, which increased the number of farmers. Brazil had much more fertile land, which was its advantage over South Africa. Brazil also had more effective industrial development policies than South Africa.
Q: A journalist noted that infant and child mortality increased due to HIV/AIDS, and the matric pass rate was not very good, which seemed to indicate that the outlook for children in South Africa was not good.
A: Mr Hirsh stated that this was a very negative perception of the future of children. There had been educational improvements as a result of interventions made by Dinaledi schools. The major obstacle was the quality of general education, specifically at the lower levels of schools.
The Minister stated that, rather than having a negative view about the future of children, people should look at the new interventions that focused on better outcomes. The government was currently correcting problems at all levels. This was going to have a major impact on the education sector.
Q: A journalist asked whether there was concern over the impression that South Africa seemed to be floundering in terms of the Knowledge-based economy index.
A: Mr Hirsh stated that this was an area of concern, as there was a lot of evidence that the index had the ability to create many job opportunities. The Electronic Communications Act created a much improved regulatory environment for investment in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. This meant that there was greater competition and quite a significant amount of investment put in to the ICT sector over the years. This had led to reduced prices and wider access. However, government was not simply being complacent about this and was considering adopting a policy on broadband matters.
Q: A journalist asked what assessments were done to see the effect of absolute population growth on the country, and what had been the effect of the large number of illegal immigrants on the Development Indicators.
A: The Minister stated that this was a difficult question, and he did not know the answer. Illegal immigrants did not want the authorities to know of their existence, and so they tended to make themselves unavailable for interview, or lied about their origins. This was not a uniquely South African problem, but it was a very real one. Even the estimates of “non-South Africans” in the country were very difficult to make.
Q: A journalist noted that the health care system was currently inadequate, and asked whether the National Health Insurance Scheme would be the answer to all the health sector problems.
A: Prof Sanders stated that the scheme was a mechanism for creating a greater pool of resources to fund healthcare. Presently, a significant percentage of resources was going towards a small percentage of the population. Only 16% of the population subscribed to medical aid schemes, and this indicated huge inequality. He supported the idea of the new scheme, but wondered if it would be able to purchase healthcare provision for all in a more equal way. This was a question that no one was answering. There were human resource issues. He was not sure that the scheme would reach everybody, specifically those in rural areas. The government needed to rapidly increase its complement of personnel and the primary levels of care, otherwise the new scheme would not reach its objective of increasing access to quality care.
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