The relationship between government and business is often made out as a tenuous one. These two important spheres are placed on the opposite ends of the spectrum, with each seeming to push against the other.
The government’s role is to create an enabling environment so that business can flourish. It also has a responsibility through policy to advance all of society, particularly the most vulnerable.
The private sector is mandated by their investors to increase shareholder value and generate profits. It lobbies for regulation that will benefit its bottom line and requires policy certainty.
In such a relationship, over-reaching from either side adds to the sentiment that government and business are not on the same page.
The government led by President Jacob Zuma, has sought to build a more productive partnership between the government and business in which both can realise their own mandate and work together to implement a shared vision for the country.
President Zuma’s convening in February 2013, of the Presidential Business Working Group helped lay the foundation for a trust relationship to develop over successive engagements. This body is not a replacement of other formal structures that already exist for business and government to interact, but should rather be seen as an additional avenue to get all sides talking.
Importantly, the Presidential Business Working Group is not meant to undermine or replace structures such as National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) which brings together organised labour, business and government.
The Working Group elevates the discussion and promotes robust interaction at the highest level. It goes beyond the rhetoric and posturing that regularly hinders progress in other key discussions.
It ensures that neither party works in silos and helps to overcome the divide between government and business.
The first meeting in 2013 prompted collaboration between government and business towards an inclusive growth strategy and support of the National Development Plan. The following year President Zuma set the tone for even stronger relations between the two spheres.
In his 2014 State of the Nation Address last year, he said the government would work with the private sector to remove obstacles to investment, promote inclusive growth and build a more prosperous society.
The recent announcement by Tiger Brands, the country’s largest consumer food manufacturer that it would work with the government to advance the development of small scale farmers should not come as a surprise.
The company, in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, undertook to buy certain crops from smallholders, which will benefit both the growth of the agricultural sector and rural economy.
In partnership with the government and local communities, it will also establish farming cooperatives as well as provide technical and financial support. The partnership complements our Fetsa Tlala Food Production Initiative to increase food accessibility, affordability and availability.
Through the Presidential Business Working Group, President Zuma has ensured that when formal engagements do occur the bona fides among the key role players have already been forged.
This ground breaking breaking initiative must be applauded, it has revolutionised the way in which the government and big business interact on national issues.
This year the Presidential Business Working Group met in early August to chart a way forward on a number of critical issues facing the country.
It discussed concerns over the country’s new immigration regulations and, in response, an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Immigration Regulations was established to address its unintended consequences.
The Working Group also addressed the legal approach undertaken to the Black Economic Empowerment ownership of mines. It then mandated the government and the Chamber of Mines to seek an amicable solution outside of the courts.
It further discussed the need to improve regulatory efficiency and turnaround times to support investments. In response, government has established a One Stop Shop at the Department of Trade and Industry to remove administrative barriers and reduce regulatory inefficiencies. We expect an improvement in turnaround times as well as the better coordination and fast tracking of investment enquiries.
I would liken the Presidential Business Working Group to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa Codesa, which some quarters have called for. The interaction is less about formalities and more about compromises towards what is best for the advancement of the country.
However, like Codesa, which played a pivotal role in the birth of the new South Africa, these interactions are not easy and even tenuous at certain times.
This healthy tension between the government and business requires ongoing dialogue leading to amicable solutions that can be reached on complex matters.
I encourage such engagements because they are genuine and help solve the most difficult challenges facing the country under conditions comparable to the “Chatham Rules”. (Which encourages openness)
We should all support initiatives that bring South Africans together to forge stronger ties and enhance interactions on national issues, to take South Africa forward.