Cape Town – The private sector has been criticised for not coming “to the party” in providing public infrastructure, but transport minister Jeff Radebe has urged business to share the risk with the government.

Speaking on behalf of the minister at a transport conference in Pretoria yesterday, the acting deputy director-general for research policy and economic analysis, Jabulani Mzaliya, said the government would “continue to champion the cause” of public-private partnerships in infrastructure provision.

Mzaliya told Business Report that the minister was promoting the idea of getting business involved in rail and road construction as a partner with the government. Asked if it was envisaged that the private sector would match the R400 billion-odd investment in infrastructure over the next five years, he said there was not a global figure that the government thought should be invested. Nevertheless, there was a need for the private sector “to share the risk”, which would involve billions of rands.

The private sector needed to be involved more directly in, for example, the Gautrain rapid rail project, he said. Although many of the skills had been attracted from the private sector to assist with the project there was a need to draw on private sector skills.

While the process of drawing the private sector into expanding and upgrading of the road network was in the preparatory phase, he said there was dire need for investment, particularly in rural and former homeland areas. This would not involve toll roads, which were aimed at relieving traffic congestion in urban areas. He believed that the private sector had an interest in getting products into rural markets, requiring an effective rural road network.

Radebe’s speech said the public sector had shown signs of weakness in implementing government policies. Admirable policy formulation had not always “been met” with implementation by the public service. “The skills set” was a problem.

Among the causes were the brain drain, previous educational inequalities and the global mobility of the workforce, but also “job hopping” and the “high turnover” among public servants.

Radebe took aim at officials “preoccupied” with financial accounting, which had often been to the exclusion of the benefits for communities.

“Social benefit accounting should be at the centre of the role of the developmental state. Surveys … should include issues previously considered as soft, such as social cohesion, national reconciliation, racial harmonisation and community happiness.”

PUBLICATION: Business Report
AUTHOR: Donwald Pressly
DATED: 10th July 2007