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Ramaphosa’s Vulindlela already tackling policy conflict head on, unit says

Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo.

Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo.

Ziyaad Douglas, Gallo Images

  • Operation Vulindlela is a unit in the office of the Presidency which monitors the implementation of policy reforms.
  • Deputy Minister of Finance, David Masondo, said the unit’s work was as urgent as ever as the South African economy was expected to grow 3.3% this year.
  • Masondo acknowledged that, even recently, political economic interests often presented a stumbling block.

One of the great challenges confronting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Operation Vulindlela is the political and technical conflicts stifling the policy reforms that the high-level unit was established to expedite, according to the unit’s officials.

Operation Vulindlela is a unit in the office of the Presidency which also works closely with National Treasury in monitoring the implementation of policy reforms of Ramaphosa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, aimed at positioning South Africa for economic recovery and sustained growth.

The unit’s work is centred on monitoring and guiding progress in reforms related to energy, freight logistics, ICT, water, as well as tourism and investment. The Ramaphosa unit has drawn comparisons to Operation Phakisa from the administration of former president Jacob Zuma.

Policy reforms government recently pursued have faced opposition at a political level and in the courts. Members of the unit briefed reporters on the work the unit had been doing since Ramaphosa established it last year on Monday afternoon.

Deputy Minister of Finance, David Masondo, told reporters that the work of Operation Vulindlela was as urgent as ever as government projects the South African economy to grow 3.3% this year, as even so, it will come from a low base.

“Because of its importance, its office is located in the office of the president himself. This supports the implementation of structural reforms to facilitate economic growth by monitoring progress, identifying challenges and ensuring accountability,” said Masondo.

Masondo stressed that Operation Vulindlela’s work was not leading reforms by guiding and expediting their implementation as each of the focus areas of Operation Vulindlela remained the responsibility of respective government departments to see through.

Reliable electricity

“The reliable supply of electricity is one of the things we are looking at in this Operation Vulindlela. We are looking at connectivity, water supply and skills. A number of state-owned entities [SOEs] have enjoyed a monopoly in some of these network industries,” Masondo said.

He acknowledged that even recently, political economic interests often presented a stumbling block in the expediting of policy reforms, such as last week’s interdict against the auction of spectrum by Telkom and at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

“Icasa was interdicted, and we have been slowed down. We are engaging with players to find a way to implement reforms with a win-win situation. You can escalate it to the office of the president, but you also want to find ways to resolve matters with the businesses and industries involved,” he said.

Economic advisor to Ramaphosa, Trudi Makhaya, said Operation Vulindlela was a government-wide approach as implementors continue to hold the responsibility for implementation as the unit assisted departments with sharpening their implementation.

“The approach that Operation Vulindlela is taking has been used around the world, be it by other heads of state or CEOs of companies. It is a delivery unit dedicated to accelerating the delivery of reforms,” said Makhaya.

Asked what distinguished Operation Vulindlela from Operation Phakisa – which was intended to fast track the implementation of solutions on critical development issues – head of the Project Management Office in the Presidency, Rudi Dicks, acknowledged the failings of Operation Phakisa and said Operation Vulindlela would run a smaller operation with less targets.

“We do an analysis of the reform with implementers. We do not parachute in to take over or indicate to departments that we disagree with them. The ownership of this project is the reforms. Implementors are expected to provide comprehensive and regular feedback,” said Dicks.

Why Operation Phakisa failed

Dicks said an important reason why Operation Phakisa failed was because it had hundreds of indicators which were difficult to keep track of.

Head of Economic Policy in National Treasury Duncan Pieterse said: “Operation Vulindlela does not focus on the whole plan but on the high impact investment aspects of the plan. The way to have the largest impact of economic growth is to take the detailed reforms that would have an impact on business’ ability to continue functioning.”

Head of the Vulindlela Unit Sean Phillips said a major concern for Operation Vulindlela in the energy space was to assist in the unbundling Eskom to improve the capacity of Eskom power plants to prevent load shedding.

“There has been a political agreement to increase the role of Independent Power Producers, but in the technical details of how you do that, we find that there is a lot of contention around the details that is partly political and partly technical, like whether municipalities have the capacity to cope,” said Phillips.

Phillips said between the Presidency and Treasury, there was a great deal of focus on why reforms were not being implemented as fast as government would like. He said the unit worked well with implementors and was able to elevate points of contention to the office of the president.

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