President Cyril Ramaphosa says he hopes the recently-appointed Presidential Economic Advisory Council will direct its efforts towards coming up with practical solutions to the challenges the country's economy is faced with.
The President said this when he opened the first meeting of the advisory council at Tuynhuys, in Cape Town, on Wednesday.
The President announced his decision to appoint the panel last month to ensure greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy and ensure that government and society in general is better equipped to respond to changing economic circumstances.
"I said this Council would 'ensure greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy and ensure that we are better equipped to respond to changing economic circumstances.
"As we reflect on the Terms of Reference of the Council and discuss its working arrangements, it is my hope that the Council will direct its efforts towards practical solutions to the complex and pressing challenges our economy faces," he said.
The council is made up of experts in a broad range of disciplines and people with extensive and varied experience. This includes economist Dr Thabi Leoka, academic economist Dr Kenneth Creamer, agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo and former Bank of Tanzania Governor Professor Benno Ndulu, among others.
The council is co-chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza and the meeting was attended by several Ministers in the economic cluster, including Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel.
Addressing the meeting, the President said the council was gathering at a difficult time as the economy was faced with headwinds and "when many key indicators confirm the extent of the economic malaise that had set in, in the aftermath of the recession".
"Poverty is rife, with nearly half of the population considered chronically poor at the upper bound national poverty line. Poverty tracks the patterns of our past closely. It is highest in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, and lowest in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Poverty is overwhelmingly black."
With unemployment standing at 29% in the second quarter of this year, the President said the economy has lost its competitiveness, ranking 82nd among 190 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index.
He said, however, progress has been made in implementing reforms aimed at helping the country's economy turn the corner.
This includes work aimed at improving the visa regime to attract tourism and high-skilled immigration.
"For example, the Minister of Home Affairs has abolished the requirement that children entering South Africa should present unabridged birth certificates."
He said visa waivers have been extended to visitors from several countries; requirements have been simplified for countries such as China and India, and an e-visa system will be piloted from next month.
"A policy directive on the release of spectrum was issued and the regulator ICASA has begun the process to license this spectrum," he said.
Other processes such as an engagement with organised business on the Ease of Doing Business Roadmap have begun, the President said.
He also said the paper detailing the approach towards Eskom will be tabled at Cabinet shortly.
"We appreciate the time and the effort that you have committed to this responsibility, and we look forward to your contributions to help us shape an inclusive and sustainable economy," he said.
Council hits the ground running
Briefing media after the meeting, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said after Mboweni and Patel made presentations, the meeting discussed a broad range of issues, including those around the informal economy.
The meeting discussed the concern that South Africa is not pushing enough to help the informal economy thrive.
"There are things that they are reflecting [on] around what needs to be done for us to be able to get out of the current economic situation so colleagues have come prepared and are already saying, maybe in the agricultural sector, these are the top three things that you need to do immediately in these provinces.
"So we are seeing value as government..."
She said some of the insights were coming from people who are operating practically on the ground, in the clusters, in the areas and sectors - people who are able to give feedback and advise on short, medium and long term measures.
She said discussions will be ongoing beyond the meeting.