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EF: Imagine tomorrow you are offered a job and your options are either Prime Minister of the UK or CEO of SoftBank, which would you pick and why?  

CC: I would probably take Boris Johnson’s job. At this stage of my life, I would rather get hold of something broader, and that has a geopolitical impact although if you had asked me this question 10 or 15 years ago, I most probably would have given you a different answer. I am not a banker; my forte is macro-economic policy and politics. 

EF: What is BUSA’s role in the South African market? 

CC: BUSA is a confederate body representing the private sector based on an extensive membership and is the largest federation of business organizations in terms of GDP and employment contribution. Our role is to drive the economy influencing macro-economic policies and banking issues, and we interact on cross-cutting issues in the economy and now social economy. BUSA does not get heavily involved with any stakeholder, including the government, and does get involved in frontloading agriculture-related issues which are a topical issue these days when it impacts the broader economy. We are players inland and in the agriculture space when cross-cutting issues are interacting with government and stakeholders with their research and experience, and NHI is also an example of this. When the NHI was put on the table, it wasn’t only interacting with the health sector as it has a broader macro-economic impact, so BUSA put together a six-person team to interact with the government’s six-person team to drive the NHI into action. 

EF: What is the current footprint of BUSA in South Africa? 

CC: We probably represent 93% or 95% of the economy; BUSA’s membership includes banks, long term insurance, industry, fund managers, mining industry, pharmaceuticals and retailers in its organization. Business Unity South Africa probably has 100 of the top CEOs on each board representing those companies. 

EF: As the CEO, what is the main priority on your agenda?

CC: We are working on a business economic endeavour to create a contract. We are organizing a conference for the 14th of January next year, and the president has already confirmed he will be the key speaker. Since a few years back, we have been pushing for investment and growth which is a critical issue in South Africa as nothing happens without them, and we must ensure business and government collaborate to create an environment where South African businesses and global businesses can be comfortable and come together. We need real investment to create jobs and then manage the growth we generate from the investment as South Africa has enough regulatory instruments to ensure transformation. I can’t complain about lack of access in this administration as I see the president once a month as well as the ministers. Together we must create confidence, create an environment conducive to investment and managing the investments, thus getting growth going. 

With the growth, we would be in a better situation as having below 1% growth, and a fiscal deficit of about 6% and no prospect of growth increase is not a good panorama. South Africa needs investor confidence to improve competitiveness. It is a matter of changing the narrative, and it is in our hands to do this, government, business and labour together. We need leadership that understands our role in the global economy and what needs to be done to get our economy going. Our banking board has for the last four years been discussing the broader environmental macroeconomic issues that are stopping growth; if the economy doesn’t grow, the banking sector is flat, so this is a critical element for the banking sector. The five themes that will be reviewed at the conference are:  i) the energy sector -the elephant in the room- needs sorting out, ii) a capable state and business to collaborate and the meaning of a capable state, iii) the challenges and opportunities of IR given our context, iv) interaction between the critical sectors of the economy –especially health, and v) structure the economy: competition, skills, employment, unlocking small business potential, the trading opportunities for youth, among others. People from the government and the business will participate, finding mechanisms to collaborate and make an impact. This is BUSA’s role in giving guidance and helping with long term implementation. South Africa also needs to develop a professional public bureaucracy that has a sense of continuity across administrations to get things flowing. 

EF: You represent 70 direct members; how do you balance the allocation of resources to satisfy every stakeholder? 

CC: Members fund the organization, and the biggest issue is capacity. I have been acting CEO for a few months, and my perspective has changed. I am clear about the amazing work BUSA does considering its resources, but they need to be amplified. I have already suggested that early next year, we go on a roadshow of members and show them a value proposition and that they put more resources into the organization. About four organizations probably contribute to 25 or 30% of our resources: they represent the long term insurance and fund managers and business leadership of South Africa, but this is not sustainable, and we need to increase the executive capacity. However, they are doing a tremendous job with limited resources. We use the capacity of members whenever we can, and we do a lot of work on land and agriculture because it is important to us, but we should do a mix of having our resources and leveraging the members that have sufficient resources of their own.

I think it mainly depends on the leadership of some of those organizations. But we need the mindset to change as we are facing unique challenges in the country, and we need to move beyond our own budget. My discussion with my board is that we need to do this, it is non-negotiable, and we will do it regardless of the budget and where it comes from. In the economy, let’s face it, most companies are more worried about keeping their heads above water so we must be sensitive to the actual economic conditions, but at the end of the day it is about leadership, and we need to be two steps ahead of our constituents, and the leaders need to make the difference. We must keep on pushing away.

EF: You mentioned companies bring along communities and have public support. Relating this to the NHI, how would you rate the public’s reception, understanding, and the buy-in of the NHI? 

CC: I think the public is confused about the NHI, but there is no question that we need to get to a situation of equitable healthcare in this country. There is an African habit of trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and the first problem to solve is how to assist people who because of their circumstances can only access public healthcare and still need to get good service. 

There is a total lack of confidence in public institutions and if we work together, this could be changed in favor of our hospitals and public facilities, hence the discussions we are involved in so we can all achieve what needs to be achieved. What is very clear is that more equitable healthcare is necessary and the first step should be to fix up the healthcare facilities, and the private sector should get involved to help the government, private and public must sit down together and decide what the role of the private healthcare will be. 

EF: Any suggestions for the NHI? 

CC: There are, in my opinion, two significant issues: positioning the NHI so it is all about improving public healthcare facilities and ensuring an equitable healthcare distribution with both public and private sectors involved in the change. Secondly, hundreds of billions of rands need to be taken off the table that we are going to need to fund us. We should do this in a way that increases confidence and encourages people and investors to participate. 

EF: What is the strategic importance of healthcare for BUSA?

CC: To get healthcare right is critical for business, from looking after one’s personnel, ensuring they are productive and business growing. It is also critical from a societal point of view, so it is in our best interests to have a sound healthcare system in an environment where we can responsibly do a profitable business. For this reason, BUSA is leading into the NHI and not just in the healthcare industry. We are also moving towards a preventative healthcare approach. If we do this correctly, I think there is potential for job creation particularly in the primary healthcare area, training people with basic healthcare skills to go into the rural areas and educate people on how to look after themselves.

EF: There is an adage known as the Iron Triangle with three factors: cheap, fast, and good, but you can only pick two. If it is fast and good it will be expensive, if it is fast and cheap it will be of low quality, or it can be good and cheap but it will take a long time. So, what two factors would you pick for South Africa and why? 

CC: I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of them. We need to make all three work. Cheap cannot be sacrificed as it must be accessible, nor can we sacrifice fast because services are required, and the quality must also be there. Using technology and innovation in our favour, we could make it work to add value and quality. It is a challenge, but the triangle has to remain. 

April 2020
South Africa