Mayor Mpho Phalatse: It's Time to Make Better Choices

Speaking at the launch of The Brenthurst Foundation's book 'Better Choices: Ensuring South Africa's Future', Joburg Mayor, Mpho Phalatse said it was time to refresh government with better corporate governance and choosing policies that would deal with unemployment, poverty and inequality

28 May 2022 ·   5 min read

Mayor Mpho Phalatse: It's Time to Make Better Choices

So excited to see so many people interested in the future of our country. I am a medical doctor and it was a very difficult decision for me to leave my job and join politics. It was informed by what I saw happening around me and the deficiencies I saw in government being and I decided to jump ship.

I was running my own business and I was doing disability assessments for SASSA, and these applicants would come with their hospital files to ask for a disability grant but I realised very soon that I was actually dealing with poverty, I was dealing with unemployment, I was dealing with inequality.

In some of the most rural parts of the country that are underdeveloped, people have no choice but to seek a disability grant. Many of them unfortunately do not qualify, they do not have a disability. All they needed was a job. It is true, South Africa has been battling with this triple burden of poverty, inequality and unemployment. You do know we've got the highest Gini coefficient in the world — the biggest measure of inequality, the difference between the rich and the poor.

And looking at Johannesburg, we are, in many ways a microcosm of the country so you've got the richest square mile in Sandton and across the M1 from Sandton, you've got Alexandra where people live in abject poverty. That's the reality of South Africa and some of the challenges we are grappling with.

For me, as a medical doctor, I got tired of just giving people medication and sending them back into the same environment and I realised something's got to give particularly in how we approach things in government. I then quit my business to go and specialise in public health medicine which is really public administration with a focus on public health. It really gave me a foot in the door into administration as a whole and how government works.

Watch a video of this speech here.

One of the things I picked up is that there is very poor corporate governance in all tiers of government whether national, provincial or local. There's fragmentation, there's no performance management, almost zero accountability, no consequence management. There are all kinds challenges.

Often we rush to say the problem is money. Yes, sometimes we have insufficient funds, but even with that, the flow of those funds is, in many instances, wrong. We're sitting with in local government now with many unfunded mandates that we are spending the bulk of our budget on and we are failing to keep the lights on and keep the water running. Something's wrong with that picture and somethings got to change.

Of course, we've got corruption as well and when the 2016 administration started, it established the group forensic services unit whose focus is to root out all cases of corruption, fraud, maladministration and any kind of misconduct and they've been doing really well even though they have come under attack lately. Corruption is a big problem.

I must say I'm quite excited to see the interest in taking the city forward — taking the country forward — and to see these authors come together and come up with some choices.

The book is 'Better Choices: Ensuring South Africa's Future' and it is quite a refreshing read.

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Yes, it does contain some hard truths about the difficulties we have had in getting the economy going and creating the jobs and opportunities that young South Africans so desperately need. We must not look away from these failings, painful though they are.

Our economy is struggling with low growth. Low growth means we are not generating the opportunities needed to provide jobs to new entrants to the labour market.

We are taking more debt, inflation is growing and there seems to be no end to the power supply problems that have resulted from the trouble at Eskom. We have just held the Joburg Energy Indaba to try and find solutions to this incredible challenge. It may take time, but we intend to return this city to full power.

Many of these problems were worsened by state capture and the shameful years where resources intended for the people were looted by a parasitic elite.

But again, we must not shy away from the truth: State capture may have made things worse, but our economic trajectory was already floundering before the events so brilliantly documented by the Zondo Commission took place.

What is refreshing about this book is that it enumerates these problems. But, unlike so much other writing about the failings of post-apartheid South Africa, it is not content to cynically leave it at that.

Instead it proposes solutions — the 'better choices' that can be made to turn this country around. These choices are tantalisingly close at hand and with the right will and drive, we can make them happen.

Much of what is proposed resonates with us in the Metro. We need to make it easier to do business, to invest and to grow the economy.

What sets this book apart is the quality of the engagement by the wonderful collection of authors, all experts in their field and all motivated by the desire to find ways of moving our country forward. I am pleased to see some them here tonight.

Let me pick out a few of the chapters.

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Is there a better person than Ivan Pillay to talk about how to create effective governance? You will recall that he was pushed out of the South African Revenue Service to allow state capture to take place, causing the decline of a great public institution.

His chapter provides a technical blueprint for a functional, people-directed government bureaucracy by changing legislation, establishing norms and standards for recruitment and procurement and empowering the Public Service Commission. He is right. It is time for a professional civil service that is capable and free of corruption and this will only be achieved if we change the way we recruit and procure.

Liberty Mncube explains what can be done to free up the creation and flourishing of new enterprises by breaking the stranglehold of dominant business through the application of competition legislation. We need to open up the space for a thousand businesses to bloom if we are to have any hope of taking this country forward.

Judge Denis Davis has written eloquently and with his usual forcefulness of how we can make tax collection more effective by revamping SARS and ensuring an integrated tax collection strategy.

Alan Hirsch has written on the very important topic of State Owned Enterprises, the core of many of problems we face today as we struggle with limited infrastructure and wasteful spending.

He rightly argues that it is time to look at the 740 — can you believe there are 740? — State Owned Enterprises and weed out the ones that don't belong there. We need to focus on the core functions that will drive growth and make them effective rather than pouring money in to hundreds of failing enterprises.

Wandile Siholobo has written on the very important subject of agriculture and has focussed on the vital issue of how we support farmers, get new farmers going and get black farmers integrated into the commercial sector.

Finally, I was struck by the chapter by Tim Harris which argues that it is time to take Business Process Outsourcing seriously as a quick creator of jobs and earner of foreign exchange. With our time-zone aligned with Europe and our excellent English language skills, Joburg can embrace this sector and make it a cornerstone of growth.

There are, of course many other chapters which have provided equally good advice — on tourism, local government, Transnet and financial issues — and all in line with what we're trying to build as a city.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address this gathering. If you haven't yet, buy the book and be part of the team that believes South Africa can be rebuilt. Join us, come out of your comfort zone, it's worth it. Let's do it, South Africans, all of us.

Thank you very much.