While the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) welcomed the creation of a small business Ministry by the new African National Congress-led government, it said in a statement on Monday that it remained concerned about the “interventionist tone” of recent official statements.

Sacci COO Peggy Drodskie told Engineering News Online that there had been “a couple” of recent statements by government indicating its intention to become more involved in business, which had “really worried” the organisation.

“We [were left with the impression] from government that there is going to be greater intervention by the State in business, which is worrying, because government must create the right environment for business, it must not become involved in business itself,” she commented.

Sacci CEO Neren Rau said in a statement that the chamber would be an active partner with regard to creating an improved economic and investment environment, but would remain of the view that this must be predicated on lower levels of State interventionism.

Drodskie added that this interventionism was already visible in several industries, referencing the recent publication of a document by government indicating its intent to benchmark the price of certain pharmaceuticals against an international threshold.

“This is tantamount to price control,” she cautioned.

“We hope that government wont use the new Ministry as a vehicle through which it can involve itself more in business, but we are very fortunate as Sacci in that we’ve had a good working relationship with the Ministers previously responsible for this portfolio.

“We hope that we can maintain this relationship and, so, improve the way the government, business and labour work together,” Drodskie noted.

She believed that the new Ministry, which would be headed up by Lindiwe Zulu, would provide the sector with the critical attention it required.

“If you look at the huge portfolio that the Department of Trade and Industry was previously responsible for, the small business sector was not treated in a way that it was given enough attention.

“By having a specific Minister responsible for this, we’re more likely to achieve this,” Drodskie remarked.

Rau added that a new Ministry dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) had been “high on Sacci’s wish list.”

“We will continue to engage towards [the establishment of] an SME department that serves the development interests of SMEs and the economy. This would include simplifying the SME regulatory environment, reviewing and expanding incentives for SMEs, championing the cause of SMEs with other government departments and the Presidency,” he commented.
The National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc), meanwhile, also welcomed the creation of the new Ministry as well as the appointment of Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister.

The organisation said on Monday that it, together with the Black Business Council (BBC), had been at the forefront of the call for the creation of such a department.

“We are happy that finally we have a Ministry which is focused entirely on developing small businesses. The new Ministry must provide the strategic direction in the development of policy and legislation that promotes enterprise growth.

“It must also provide support services to SMMEs through various government departments and support agencies, among others,” commented Nafcoc president and BBC VP Lawrence Mavundla.

He also called on the new Ministry to prioritise the prompt payment of SMMEs that provided products and services to government.

“A lot of small businesses, largely black-owned, have failed owing to cash-flow problems emanating from late to nonpayment of invoices by government departments,” Mavundla said.