Invest SA website launch highlights e-governance projects

9th June 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

The government investment promotion programme Invest SA on June 8 launched a new website to provide prospective and existing investors with relevant information to invest in the country.

A new Doing Business in SA website was simultaneously launched to provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with the information, documents and contacts needed to start a business.

The websites were developed in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcements of measures to move South Africa up the World Bank rankings in terms of ease of doing business.

Part of improving the ease of doing business is to implement reforms, said Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) investment promotion acting head Yunus Hoosen.

"The DTIC is leading the work done in this area, which involves reforming and reducing processes, transparently showing how we have improved since the launch of the programme [in 2019] and providing up-to-date comprehensive information for potential and existing investors."

National Treasury Economic Development programme leader Karen Harrison said the focus was on the nine major metropolitan areas in South Africa, as these generate more than half of the country's gross domestic product.

Improving the competitiveness and performance of the metropolitan economies is central to the national Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, she noted.

Ease of doing business has a direct impact on the performance and competitiveness of exports and services, she added.

However, metros only have control and influence over three of the eleven ease of doing business metrics used by the World Bank, namely registering property, getting electricity and dealing with construction permits, all of which are related to processes.

"While the score [on the World Bank index] is critical for attractiveness as an investment destination, the value lies in national and sub-national reforms to address the existing inefficiencies in public sector operations that undermine competitiveness in the country's metros," she said.

Lessons learned from the pilot projects in cities can be used to inform further interventions at a sub-national level, including provinces and municipalities that often resist implementing reforms.

The DTIC and the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) are piloting various electronic governance (e-government) projects to improve the functions of these three metrics. CoJ provided updates on the digitalisation of construction permit, property registration and electricity application processes.

CoJ deeds deputy registrar Jabulani Hlatshwayo said the Electronic Deeds Registration Act, promulgated in 2019, enabled the city to implement its electronic registration system to ensure the entire deeds process is moved from manual to digital. This allowed the city to make several improvements to the registration process.

"The project led to significantly improved turnaround times down to a maximum of three days. We are trying to ensure we develop the system to improve security and ensure it can interface or integrate with other systems, such as governmental and municipal systems.

CoJ development planning department head Amolemo Mothoagae detailed how construction permitting processes have been digitised, and reduced the average time to process a permit from 90 to 120 days, to 60 days. The city plans to reduce this further to 30 days.

However, she warned that a core challenge facing the development planning department, and specifically those employees who form part of the construction permitting processes, is resistance to change and the key need to ensure change management is handled properly. This is also expected to be a key challenge across all spheres of government implementing digital projects.

She said staff are concerned about their functions, and the department is looking at how these employees can be used effectively as digital systems are rolled out. The department is grappling with the reforms required.

Meanwhile, CoJ deputy director Jacques Maart said the introduction of an online electricity application system had reduced turnaround times to receive a rates clearance certificate and has reduced the costs to residents in the City of Johannesburg, because attorneys used messengers to lodge documents and spent between one to three hours in the queue to submit the documents, and required up to five days to complete.

Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) commissioner Rory Voller said automation and digitalisation were part of the journey to e-government services, and the Business Portal, launched in 2019, is an example of a one-stop shop that includes all relevant information, documents and contacts to help entrepreneurs complete business registration processes quickly to move on to running their businesses.

"The Business Portal provides information on major banks and financing requirements. However, we are adding further services to the portal, which will change it being an e-government service that includes all corporate and business services provided by the CIPC and its partners.

"Further, the development of the business portal has enabled the CIPC to reduce turnaround times, and has meant that the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) has changed from being a black hole that led to entrepreneurs not knowing what stage of the process their submission is, to one where registration takes about a day and a half, meaning entrepreneurs can much more quickly open bank accounts, and apply for tax and value-added tax (VAT) registration."

Through a partnership with the Department of Home Affairs, data is shared and verified, enabling a person to open a business within hours - although the average time has gone down from about 35 days to five.

"The vision of the CIPC is to improve the portal to provide all business information from registration to deregistration. We are looking at what role we need to play to give government and private sector services for the good of the citizens in the country," he said.

South African Revenue Service (Sars) stakeholder relations, integrity and anti-corruption senior manager Mark Kingon said Sars had developed 30 systems over the past year that enables it to engage with tax payers and stakeholders, and especially ease the burden on small businesses.

"We are making progress, but we are not there yet, and lots of work remains to achieve the objectives of providing effective and efficient services to companies. Obtaining a tax reference number is now possible within minutes, although obtaining VAT registration still takes a long time."

SARS process solutions senior manager and research manager Dr Rebone Gcabo emphasised that Sars exists to serve and support the higher purpose of enabling a capable State, economic growth and development for the wellbeing of all South Africans. The agency's mandate requires that it helps to build competitiveness for the investment programme to achieve South Africa's agenda.

"Like other agencies and departments, we are supporting and taking part in the journey to becoming a smart, modern agency of unquestionable integrity that is trusted by all."

Development finance institution IFC provided two electronic tools for the government of South Africa to promote investment and create an enabling environment for the private sector to grow and create jobs, said IFC South Africa country manager Adamou Labara.

Government Communication and Information System director general Phumla Williams said more had to be done to tap into the potential of South Africa.

"The interventions are part of the commitment the President made to the South African public that we will turn the corner and grow the economy and widen the employment base of the country.

"Importantly, interventions will mean nothing if not implemented and if there is no cooperation between departments."