17 January 2010

NPC online nominations process launched

Online nominations process launched for scaled-back planning body

Terence Creamer, Engineering News, Johannesburg, 15 January 2010

The Presidency of South Africa launched a Web-based nomination process on Friday for the 20 commissioners it was seeking to appoint to serve on government's National Planning Commission (NPC) - the appointment process was initiated following the release of a revised green paper, outlining the nascent body's more narrowly defined role, functions and powers.

Minister in The Presidency Responsible for the NPC Trevor Manuel said that the application process would close on February 10, 2010, a day before President Jacob Zuma was scheduled to open Parliament, and that the selection of the part-time commissioners should be completed by the end of March.

A process had also been initiated to secure the services of technically competent managers and experts to administer the body's new secretariat, which would be based at the Union Buildings.

The revised green paper emerged following robust debate in both houses of Parliament during September last year, after an initial version was released for discussion on August 12, 2009.

In the process, Manuel himself came under attack, most notably from the left-leaning labour federation Congress of South African Trade Unions, which mistrusted the former Finance Minister's so-called neoliberal views on economic policy, as well as any outcome that would result in him emerging as a "super Minister".

The new version effectively stripped the NPC of executive power, which would reside firmly with the President, supported by Cabinet, and also diluted Manuel of direct responsibility in the development of the Medium-Term Strategic Policy Framework and government's programme of action.

The NPC would be tasked with producing a draft long-term vision and strategic plan for the country, as well as a series of "thematic papers" on such "crosscutting issues" as climate change, demographic change, water and food security, energy security, human resource development and technology and innovation.

It would focus on the delivery of evidence-based research, while Cabinet would remain the decision-making centre, with the chairperson of the commission, currently Manuel, being a member of Cabinet.

Manuel stressed that the revisions had been shaped by the inputs to Parliament and that the attacks on his person had had no bearing on the final formulation. Nevertheless, he acknowledges government would not be able to please everyone when naming the final commissioners.

"I believe there is a fair amount of support now for the commission. But we will not satisfy all the needs of 48-million people by selecting 20," he said.

The responsibility for whittling down the list of applicants would rest with Manuel, who indicated that government planned to draw members from a diverse range of backgrounds and fields and that he hoped to secure the services of experts and individuals "with day jobs".

"We have not set our sights on 20 retired university professors," he asserted, adding government hoped to draw on the expertise of people with real-world experiences, who would be remunerated "appropriately", if at all.

The NPC would comprise South African citizens, but the secretariat might draw on foreign expertise, as was the case with the planning commission in India.

Manuel would not be drawn on the content or format of the first long-term document, but said that he expected the first draft within the next 18 months.

That said, the NPC might have to intervene in some shorter-term decisions that had long-term implications, notably South Africa's power generation mix and its alignment to the political commitment made by South Africa in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Mexico later this year, while South Africa would host the subsequent gathering in 2011.

Nomination forms for both the commission and for positions in the secretariat can be lodged through http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/. The commissioners would serve for a period of five years.

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