Is BEE to blame?

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Dionne Kerr, the executive director of Siyakha Consulting and chairperson of the NABC, presented two discussions covering the relationship between BEE and the construction sector at the ConExpo Summit held at the Gallagher Convention Centre on 1 and 2 September.

NAFCON, in collaboration with Construction Industry Development Board, and various government departments hosted the first ConExpo Summit which enabled all construction stakeholders in South Africa to showcase their latest services and products, technologies and best practices in the construction industry.

Themed "Building Beyond Tomorrow' ConExpo saw the converging of important stakeholders including contractors, suppliers, developers, workers, customers and the government.

In her presentation Kerr mentioned that the debate continues as to the validity of BEE as a mechanism to truly achieve transformation and ongoing scepticism around the policy?s strengths as a way in which to achieve economic growth.

"The average middle to lower income black South African feels that BEE has failed to provide access to wealth and opportunity. The average middle to lower income white South African blames BEE for their inability to find work in this tough economy. The average entrepreneur is focused on survival and has no time to understand the broad-based model of seven elements of developmental participation in South Africa?s growth strategy. The youth of South Africa are desperate to have a sense of purpose and remove the barriers to opportunity,' said Kerr.

She explained that BEE gets blamed by all parties for some, or all of this. "However, South Africa has a strong, integrated strategy for development,' she said and explained that the ASGISA programme saw a commitment of more than R400-billion (expenditure was almost double) in infrastructure development. "These projects started in 2004, well in advance of rest of the world, which announced infrastructure programmes in response to the economic downturn as a means for economic recovery.'

ASGISA demands focus on Job creation and local economic development. "If you want to benefit commercially from these projects, then ensure that the local area benefits developmentally. In this way the intent is to ensure that the legacy of infrastructure investment is more than just a building, road, power station or rail network. The legacy issue is then skills, entrepreneurs and local development,' she added.

According to Kerr the Industrial Policy Action Plan (II) implemented by the DTI suggests a limit on Capex expenditure to 30% in order to encourage local supply, manufacture and production as a means of job creation. The New Growth Path and the related departments are on board. The Minister of Finance confirmed that the allocation of funds for development, loan and grant funding would increase and all of these policies are specifically geared around the principle of partnership between government, community and business in order to stimulate the economy, develop a platform for job creation and drive sustainable development.

"With the very best intentions, and these remarkable strategies, are we truly capturing the opportunities in South Africa for job creation, enterprise development and sustainability?

The pivotal factor will be our ability to implement. This starts with the leadership. Once the strategy is defined, do we have the right people in the right positions with the passion, the energy and the enthusiasm who want to make a difference in the lives of their people? Do people truly understand the power they hold to empower other people and change lives?

The fundamental success of BEE lies in its prioritisation of measurement and targets. The model for building skills, setting targets and measuring investment as well as constant evaluation of the impact are, in principle, sound theories. Our development strategies similarly need to be broken down into plans that can be actioned,' she said.

Kerr believes that if we can teach SMME, employee and rural communities to sustain themselves, then we remove the culture of dependence that sees public sentiment shift so swiftly every time we have an election. "Every community in South Africa should take back the control over their lives and be able to employ themselves, educate themselves, feed themselves and sustain themselves,' said Kerr. "Our policies towards investment need to encourage international investors to participate providing they subscribe to the principle that South Africa and South Africans should benefit from their commercial activity. Business creates jobs, and taxes which assist with development.'

She is of the firm opinion that changing the way we slice up a pie and distributing the pie doesn?t change the fact that the pie is not big enough to sustain a growing population and the priority needs to be expanding the growth opportunities to meet the demands of this population. "It is government?s role to create an environment for us as South Africans to succeed. The strategies, the access to funding and the policies do that. The inconsistent messaging and the ongoing issues around corruption and manipulation derail these efforts,' she said.

Kerr believes that, with the right environment to succeed, it is the role of youth organisations to work with business and government to find solutions. It is the role of business chambers and SMME funders to collaborate with all stakeholders to find solutions for business growth. It is the role of the unions, the employment industry, business and government to identify ways to increase the number of jobs.

"Solution-seeking should be the priority, not problem-finding. This simply distracts people from the activities that should be aimed at driving solutions. If there is one thing we can learn from the BEE model, it is to set targets. Identify a plan, with targets and see it through. Underpin targets with clear, consistent policy; be broad-based and inclusive in the approach; review regularly, and insist on minimum performance. Engage everyone, communicate frequently and let?s celebrate our quick wins so that we remain focused on why this is so important. This is how we will achieve our development goals,' she said.

For more information, email Dionne Kerr at [email protected]

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