The current trust deficit between government and the private sector is not just based on the private sector’s belief that nothing can or will be done, but rather on the lack of correctly identifying opportunities when trying to bridge the gap.
This sentiment, shared by panellists during a roundtable on the sidelines of the second South African Business Incubation Conference, held in Kempton Park, on Thursday, was based on previous bad experiences that the private sector had had when interacting with government.
Former Proudly South African CEO Leslie Sedibe said “'trust deficit' can be a very loaded [phrase]”.
This was supported by a representative from Business Unity South Africa, or Busa, who said that in order to turn this trust deficit around, government and the private sector would need to achieve better alignment between policy and implementation.
To achieve this, she suggested that continuous consultations needed to take place between government and the private sector. Consultations, she elaborated, needed to see social partners gathering to discuss and work through a policy with a vested interest in South Africa and its people.
She warned that this was a “huge” issue if government and the private sector wanted to build trust through the alignment and co-working for a collective goal.
“At the end of the day, business and government want the same thing – we need a prosperous South Africa. In the words of the Busa strategy, we need a thriving economy that’s built on inclusive growth,” she said.
However, another challenge, she pointed out, was that there would always be differences, especially when governmental departments continue to operate in silos.
“We can’t underestimate what the last ten years have done around having broken relationships. We cannot underestimate the long-term systemic impact of Apartheid on South Africa,” the Busa representative stated.
Youth Employment Service (YES) CEO Tasmia Ismail-Saville was, however, more optimistic about the country’s prospects.
“The mood has turned, and we need to acknowledge it. Yes, there is a deficit, but it is not insurmountable. All is not lost,” she said.
The point of departure in resolving this trust deficit, Ismail-Seville added, was that the deficit needed to be acknowledged but terminology, language and tones were important parts of the conversation too.
Sedibe, meanwhile, also questioned whether legislation was contributing towards service delivery across the nation. The focus was more on “conformance, rather than performance,” he said.
The Busa representative noted that there had to be consequence for underperformance.
Government has a role to play in addressing the challenges, Sedibe said, however, he pointed out that understanding what the problems are, and how these could effectively be solved, needed to take place collaboratively before progress can be made.
“I think that once we know what the problems are, then we can work towards a solution.”
The commonly referenced “triple challenges” of poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa would need to be addressed too, he noted.
“The question is then, how do we then address the inequalities in society? Until we begin to see the link between the problems and the solutions, we will not be driven towards the solutions.”
Ismail-Saville, however, pointed out that this was “a very complex problem” that was being attacked, or scrutinised, for many angles.
With the legacy of apartheid having taken away people’s sense of self-empowerment, dignity and confidence, she lamented that the country’s education system was also having a negative impact.
These challenges, or issues, she said, take away any chance a person has of navigating the world of business, or partnership with governmental institutions.
Not all was lost, she said, citing the YES initiative. This, Ismail-Saville elaborated, was “an absolute collaboration between government and business”.
While not an easy endeavour, the YES initiative’s success could contribute to making these difficult relationships, between government and the private sector, work.
“These are not easy fixes, but I think everybody – even labour – acknowledges that the youth are the pipeline for future members [of the workforce]. Everybody sees the importance that this needs to be addressed, and when that importance is seen, you can work together.”
“It will be painful every step of the way, but it’s worth it. Because the outcomes are necessary for everyone,” she concluded.