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Thinking Is Overrated...

Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 12:03

In the past few weeks, there has been yet another huge public outcry on the functioning of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) and this has provoked a range of talk (and a lot of hot air too) about how we can go about fixing things to make one of the larger national development funders in South Africa, work better. This talk and the occasional Business Day op-ed have however failed to look at the bigger picture of the development landscape and how that aspect affects not just the NLDTF or the National Development Agency (NDA) but the manner in which we build the post-1990 envisioned development state.
 
In attempting to deal with any process to improve the functioning of the NLDTF or the NDA, it may be prudent to acknowledge the (very large) elephant in the room, which is the obvious lack of any sort of comprehensive social service and development legislation in South Africa that provides for the holistic location of both agencies as well the myriad of other public and private sector funding in the country. The lack of this overarching legislative framework for bringing the developmental state agenda to life, is the key to unlocking the value of both agencies as well as a host of the other good and great initiatives that seek to build a more just and equitable society[1].
 
Thus any recommendations and conclusions to improve the NDA and NLDTF need to be understood in the context of what else is needed to ensure that this situation of a poorly functioning national development agency and a misaligned national lottery funder, are both fixed and not repeated in the way we develop and implement future initiatives to realise the ideals of the Freedom Charter and Constitution. The social, cultural and economic rights[2] of the people of SA are central to the way we think about and implement the programmes and policies that seek to meet and exceed those rights.

On a macro level, we need to commence a dialogue about the nature of the social compact to meet and exceed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and ensure greater prosperity for all who live here. The state has claimed ownership of the developmental state and finding ways for civil society to engage meaningfully and constructively are limited. Admittedly, this is a reality of past and current modalities of engagement, but if we are looking to move ahead, then we need to be clear, as a nation, that civil society is not a secondary partner in this process. It is a collaborative relationship, where partners are engaging, on the ideals we seek to set and the process to achieve them.

We must also be wary of the red herring touted by senior Department of Social Development (DoSD) officials about the lack of an apex civil society structure to engage with and thus, they “do not know who to engage with in civil society.” There are a range of current networks that can be called upon and if this is not enough, it is a simple matter to put out a public call for engagement.
 
For the NLDTF and the NDA, there is a need for a piecemeal reform approach, as well as systemic change in the broad development landscape. It is possible for both these options to co-exist and given the urgent needs of the sector, we need to win space for both immediate reforms as suggested below, as well as a large-scale development priority shift.
 
Piecemeal Reform:

Better-designed regulations for both the NDA and the NLDTF are needed, with broad consultation and ideally this process should be funded by the respective entities but managed by civil society. In this fashion, we will have developed regulations that not only improve the functioning of the entities but are also owned by the people affected by them[3].
 
We need a separate board for the NLDTF, to oversee the mandate of the NLDTF and ensure compliance with that mandate. This board will also serve to ensure that civil society is both represented and equally accountable for the success or failure of the NLDTF to meet its lofty mandate.
 
We also need the Advisory Board for Social Development (Act 3 of 2001)[4] also needs to be appointed as a matter of critical urgency. It is baffling to say the least, that this matter has been outstanding for 11 years now. The appointment of such a board would ensure that talent, skills, knowledge and experience of the civil society sector is shared in the process of ensuring that development in SA takes place as a collaborative process between government, civil society, business and labour.
 
So while we can ‘take-on’ the NLDTF in marches and media campaigns, it will serve the interests of civil society in general, much better, if we are to focus our collective energy on working together to bring about some macro-policy shifts that will create an enabling framework for a long term developmental approach to funding of civil society organisations at the coalface of delivery and those engaged in the process of constant innovation, not just of service delivery but of our thinking too.

- Rajesh Latchman is the Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum, Volunteer Convenor of GCAP South Africa, guerrilla gardener, cyclist and an unreformed recycler. He writes in his personal capacity.



[1] The need for an over-arching legislative framework for social services, National Welfare Forum, 2010 accessible on the following link www.forum.org.za/The-Need-for-an-Over-Arching-Legislative-Framework-May-2010
[2] Understanding the International Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, Coalition for ICESCR ratification, 2010 accessible on www.blacksash.org.za/files/icescrseminardoc.pdf