Additional resources will not solve key problems such as poor education, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said on Wednesday.
"It's not so much how much money you throw at the problem, it's how you transform the system," Manuel told media after he handed the National Development Plan to President Jacob Zuma.
Manuel said the plan's objective of transforming the economy was dependent on the quality of education.
The minister conceded there were instances where additional financial support was needed, but there should be less focus on how much it would cost.
The way spending and accountability happened should be prioritised.
Deputy National Planning commission chairman Cyril Ramaphosa concurred, saying accountability should come from the top where schools were concerned.
"One of the problems we found in education is the leadership of the schools. Once you resolve the issue of leadership in schools, you've actually solved more than 60 percent of the problems," said Ramaphosa.
He said it was time principals were treated as the chief executive officers of schools.
"I'm satisfied that with this type of proposal that principals (who are the CEOs of school) be held accountable. That CEO will ensure that teachers are then held accountable," said Ramaphosa.
A proposal to link a percentage of teachers' salary increases to pupil performance has been dropped from the NDP.
It has been replaced with a proposal to give financial incentives to schools that show a significant improvement on their annual results.
The original idea did not find favour with the department of education, which considered it difficult to implement.
It was pointed out that ultimately student performance depended on a range of socio-economic conditions, and not solely teacher skills.
The commission said its new proposal would in practice benefit poor schools, since wealthier schools already generally fared well and would therefore show a smaller margin of improvement.
Manuel on Wednesday used education as an example of how the NDP would work.
"We describe how to weave a plan out of the strands of policy. We identify a series of issues and find linkages," he said.
Manuel said the broad objective of transforming the economy depended on the quality of education from an early age.
"The commission as a whole recognises that nutritional support is fundamentally important for cognitive development in young children. The experts say the first thousand days are important," he said.
"The commission accepts that and we then say getting nutritional support to children from birth is fundamentally important. It's not an optional thing."
School nutrition programmes in provinces like the Eastern Cape had collapsed.
"It works in some areas and in some areas not. You've got to understand why it doesn't work and you've got to deal with the problem," said Manuel.