Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

President’s Red Tape Reduction task team’s power limited by red tape

Though they're helping reduce government red tape, the task team has limited power, and is working on fixing this, along with defining what red tape is.

If you’ve been wondering what President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Red Tape Reduction task team has been doing after the president announced it during last year’s State of the Nation Address, the short answer is: not much.

According to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), the Red Tape Reduction task team in the Presidency met with the Small Business Development Committee on 16 November for a brief on its progress.

The objective of the task team was to make tangible progress in reducing excessively complex rules, regulations, procedures, and processes that inhibited economic growth and job creation in key areas of the economy, and work with relevant role players across government, the private sector and community-based organisations.

Sipho Nkosi, head of the task team, said in his presentation that the team currently has no permanent structure and need administrative capacity, with the Presidency playing a central oversight and coordination role, while direct implementation is done through multiple government departments and agencies, including the departments of trade, industry and competition (DTIC) and small business development (DSBD).

The PMG says in its report on the meeting that the task team identified almost 100 potential red tape issues and initially focused on three highly important areas that were potentially capable of showing improvement in the coming months.

These prioritised areas were tourism travel permits, the mining and prospecting rights licensing system, and work permits and visa administration, Nkosi said.

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Tourism travel permits red tape

“Tourism travel permits was a long-standing issue for an important industry, impacting established and emerging operators alike. There has been progress recently following engagement between the department of transport and the industry, with the support of the minister.”

The department made progress in reducing the licencing backlog, but the existing process remained cumbersome, with additional requirements not contained in the regulations.

Nkosi said the minister remained engaged in the process, but meanwhile tour operators could not offer visitors any tours that included transport.

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Mining and prospecting licenses

As far as the mining and prospecting rights licensing system is concerned, Nkosi said the growth of the mining industry is hindered by the lack of a modern system to administer mining and prospecting licences, with the procurement process for licences delayed in part due to differences between the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and department of mineral resources and energy (DMRE).

The task team was planning to meet with the DMRE to discuss how the RTR process could help.

ALSO READ: Govt committed to clearing mining, prospecting and mineral rights backlog – Ramaphosa

Work permits and visas

Regarding work permits and visa administration, Nkosi said the inability to process work permits quickly negatively impacted international firms’ ability to operate in South Africa and attract critical skills.

He said a report was prepared by Operation Vulindlela, under the leadership of former department of home affairs (DHA) director-general, Mavuso Msimang. It was with Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and a detailed briefing was scheduled to plan a way forward.

“The RTR programme will support the implementation of the recommendations, which would be based on engagements with the DHA regarding the programme of work.”

Nkosi said other recent areas of interest included informal trading permits and licences and early childhood development (ECD) regulations.

These were under consideration and letters were sent to the premiers of each province to engage and encourage the establishment of red tape-reduction units in their provinces to create dedicated capacity in each province that will form part of the overall architecture to tackle RTR more systemically.

The task team met with Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) regarding focus areas and priorities and explained that the RTR programme generally focused on economic blockages, including those affecting small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and larger businesses.

A second consultative reference group meeting was scheduled for 17 November, including representatives from the DTIC, DSBD and business organisations such as BUSA and the Black Business Council (BBC).

Questions from the committee

The committee wanted to know if the task team uses an assessment tool to determine the impact of red tape.

It also asked if the task team considered the involvement of small businesses in the energy crisis, making getting e-hailing permits easier for transport providers, and easing the restrictions of labour legislation.

Another question from the committee was what was done about the inefficiency of importing and exporting goods through the harbours due to red tape.

The committee members also emphasised the need for officials to be held accountable for paying invoices within 30 days, saying that the access to and uptake of the funds made available to small businesses needed to be improved.

Answers from the task team

Nkosi said in his response to comments from the committee members that the task team is working on defining red tape and it had a long list of issues that it will focus on as resources become more available, including the use of the assessment tool, the payment of invoices, and labour legislation.

He also said that the team did not currently have powers, but was negotiating to see what it can do with its limited powers.

About small businesses, he said that access to finance had always been a big issue for African youth and those wanting to start small businesses, which needed to be addressed as a country. The task team is doing research on this, although not much work had been done on small business and red tape.

Anthony Costa, investment lead in the Office of the Presidency, said there had been a great demand for engaging with and sending queries to the task team, but part of the challenge was that with its current structure, the team was unable to attend to individual queries from citizens, consumers, or small business owners.

“There was no capacity or mandate to do so and the team looked more into the systemic issues. Team members first needed to understand their engagement structure.”

He added that the task team was aware of the question of the ease of doing business and had worked closely with the DTIC on that.

“The ease of doing business was being reshaped in terms of a separate piece of work around improving the business environment.”

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