The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) was invited to participate in a panel discussion titled “Is South Africa advancing towards the Welfare State”, which was hosted by Die Burger during the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees. The ISI was represented by its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Daryl Swanepoel.
Other panellists included the well-known sociologists, Professor Christie van der Westhuizen, who is attached to the Nelson Mandela Bay University, and Professor Erwin Schwella, who is attached to the Hugenote College in Wellington, Western Cape. Well-known community activist and former editor of the Cape Times, Ryland Fisher also participated.
Some points made by Mr Swanepoel included:
Responding to criticism that the welfare state is wrong for South Africa, he suggested it not to be so. Many welfare states, such as Sweden, he said had a flourishing private sector and their societies consistently count amongst the happiest nations on earth (according to Gallup’s annual Global Happiness Index).
Whilst the ideal should be the welfare state, cognisance needed to be taken of the financing requirements therefore. He cautioned government not to introduce the expenditure side of the welfare state before the income side proved to be sustainable.
South Africa does not currently have the money to fund the welfare state. Therefore, the focus should be on the economy “über alles”. The economy needs to grow, so that the tax-base is increased, so that the state has sufficient resources to implement its safety-net and other programmes attached to the notion of a welfare state. For example, in Sweden more than 70% of working age citizens contribute towards the tax-base. In South Africa this was only around 11%, with just over 5% contributing some 97% of the personal income tax.
The welfare state depended on the civil service being competent. Taxpayers needed to trust the system. If Sweden was anything to go by, citizens do not object to paying higher taxes since they trust the state to deliver quality services. South Africa has a long way to go in this regard. High levels of corruption, maladministration and incompetence caused taxpayers to be wary of government’s ability to successfully implement the welfare state in South Africa. To this end government needed to act firmly against the scourge of corruption, ensure a people-centred civil service, and drastically improve the skills-set of public officials.