17 January 2010

Revised version of NPC green paper

Revised version of Manuel's green paper removes NPC's executive powers

Caiphus Kgosana, Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, 17 January 2010

Cosatu and the leftists scored a major victory after Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel toned down the green paper on the contentious National Planning Commission.

The revised green paper strips the planning commission of its executive functions, which Cosatu strongly objected to and claimed would effectively turn Manuel into a prime minister.

The initial green paper triggered a storm in the tripartite alliance, with Cosatu openly criticing President Jacob Zuma and Manuel, while the ANC was forced to be on the defensive.

Presenting the revised version in Pretoria on Friday, Manuel said the commission would not have executive powers.

"We have taken out the executive functions. We can't remove executive responsibility from cabinet... these issues that are executive don't belong with the (commission)."

This effectively reduces the planning commission, which was supposed to be a super agency with overarching powers over the planning functions in all three spheres of government, into a mere government advisory body on planning.

Economist Iraj Abedian said taking executive powers from the National Planning Commission would make it ineffective as a planning organ.

"It reduces it to more of an advisory agency and in that sense, and to a large extent, defeats the purposes of this commission," he said.

Abedian said some of the planning mistakes that were committed in the past, which necessitated the creation of a planning commission, would now be repeated if the commission did not have the power to enforce its recommendations.

Unless it becomes a binding agency that has the powers, it will be an expensive white elephant, he added.

But political analyst Steven Friedman said a planning commission in its nature is not supposed to have executive powers. He said he was surprised that Manuel had mentioned the taking out of executive powers as his (Friedman's) own understanding of the original green paper was that it did not afford the commission executive powers at all.

"A planning commission by its very nature is supposed to look at the environment, formulate plans which are submitted to cabinet and various structures of government. There is a difference between planning and implementation. You don't need executive powers to plan," he said.

The DA, which runs the Western Cape and fears attempts to control provinces from the top, welcomed the announcement that departments, provinces and municipalities would not be bound by programmes produced by the commission.

Parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said they were happy that suggestions contained in the original green paper that the commission can "authoritatively and forcefully drive planning, monitoring and evaluation for institutional improvements" had been removed.

He said, however, that the revised paper needed to be clear and not ambiguous on the exact powers and functions of the commission.

According to the revised green paper, the commission will draft reports containing long-term strategic planning suggestions for cabinet consideration. "These reports will contain recommendations for the executive to accept, refine or reject. The task of developing legislation, policies and programmes to implement any of the recommendations contained in these thematic papers lies with line departments, provinces and municipalities."

Manuel said the commission would contribute to long-term government planning to ensure consistency and co-ordination of policies.

"The planning commission will do that without getting in the way of cabinet to take decisions," he said.

Manuel added that the views raised during parliamentary hearings into the green paper by a number of stakeholders - including Cosatu - had been taken into account when revising the green paper, which was adopted by cabinet last month.

But he said he paid no attention to personal attacks directed at him.

"The reports of the two committees in Parliament, those issues are reflected in here. I don't think there were many issues that dealt with alliance partners. We separated out the individual and ad hominem attacks; they should not find a place in the way we take decisions on these matters," he said.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said they would need to study the revised green paper before commenting.

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