Between 2012 and 2016 I (Paul Hendler) led a team of consultants for the Cities Support Programme (CSP). This is about the programme strengths-weaknesses.
The CSP is a National Treasury (NT) project. CSP’s purpose is to address the poverty, unemployment and marginalisation suffered by the majority of dwellers in our metropolitan areas. CSP uses an approach called ‘spatial targeting’ to achieve this end. Namely the overcoming of poverty through growth, employment and redistribution. The specific instrument adopted by the CSP is the Urban Network Strategy (UNS).
The UNS is an isntrument to identify public space for infrastruture investment. The government incentivises the investment through grants. The infrastructure forms part of a broader strategy. To increase population density along transport routes. This is augmented through housing subsidies. The purpose is to crowd in private sector investment. They intend to create a virtuous cycle of investment, jobs, and demand. Leading to increased cycles of investment. When the CSP was evaluated I was interviewd. For my views on programme stregnths-weaknesses.
Rebecca Gotz interview with Paul Hendler (Transcription)
Part 1: The CSP: programme strengths-weaknesses
Hello, I’m Paul Hendler of INSITE. Between 2012 and 2016 I led a team of consultants that developed performance indicators for the Treasury’s Cities Support Programme (or CSP). We also engaged with the eight metropolitan municipalities to get agreement for these performance indicators, analyse their capacity needs for implementing the activities required of them, and designed Capacity Support Implementation Plans, to address the Capacity Gaps.
The CSP aimed to incentivise the metropolitan municipalities to invest in transport infrastructure in order to make their cities compact and thereby to facilitate well governed, inclusive, productive and sustainable cities. A principal aim 0f the CSP was to create drivers to address economic development to reduce poverty and unemployment. Indeed, to generate broad-based wealth and greater income for the poorer working classes.
One year after the completion of our work, in 2017, I was interviewed by Rebecca Gotz, from Genesis, who had been tasked with assessing the CSP’s performance as well as evaluating its impact on the transformation of our urban metropolitan landscapes in a way that improved the quality of life for the majority. This is the first part of that interview, where she asked me what did I take away as the CSP’s achievements. And where did I see room for improvement.
Currently (2019) our society is under great stress. Our cities are places where many live in poverty, unemployment and with little or no income. And all the attendant social ills. It is therefore timeous and appropriate to reflect on a significant government programme intended to address these challenges. To get a sense of how parts of the government have tried to implement corrective programmes and plans. Where these have had a positive impact. And, finally, where and why they have failed.
INTERVIEW: programme strengths-weaknesses
Let me, let me just try and share with you in a bullet form what I thought were the positives of our experience. And what I thought were the areas where I thought there could be improvement. And I think we’ve spoken about far bigger positives and areas to improve in the very pointed questions that you raised. So these may come across as a little bit, very focused on our direct experience, maybe a bit navel ……
I mean that’s why we are talking to you and a set of other consultants.
Sure… just a bit navel gazing compared with the interaction and the points you raised earlier. I think those points are great, and that we did pick up on that, but in terms of the positives, I just sat down and noted what I thought from our point of view, were three important positives. OK.
Programme strengths-weaknesses – positive takeaways
The first one was at that very first meeting. This point about that this was a nation building contribution, you not just here doing a job. I thought that was amazingly positive. I thought OK, great, like this is a bigger contract, it’s going to go on for at least two years, or 18 months, and we can build a relationship, and it can go on for longer, and that’s not just about getting money but it’s about continuity. It’s about working in continuity and not being the sort of, you know there’s this thing about consultants being compared to, I am not sure whether ‘prostitutes’ is a politically incorrect word these days, but you know what I’m saying. Yes that you are actually used and then you’re just sort of cast aside…. And so that was very positive. That statement was made then, OK.
The second positive was that there was certainly with the CSP team, there was a lot of engagement with us around particularly the indicators project. There was a lot of engagement, yes we did a lot of work but when we reported back that there were blocks or gaps and that we couldn’t take it forward, there was a lot of engagement. It helped to take the process forward.
And I still said at the time to one of the people that we reported to there that this is very different from a lot of public sector consulting work that I was involved in for quite a few years before that, where you’d deliver your deliverables and then put in your final deliverable and have your invoice ready and then they’d suddenly say to you ‘Oh Gee, we never really expected this’. OK. Because they were never engaged. And then you’ve got to fight a battle with them – the other experiences – that but, ‘guys, you signed off on the intermediate deliverables, what do you mean? You didn’t expect this? OK? Here’s the scope of work…’
So it was very different in the indicators project, and I think also with the capacity needs analysis project, with the Treasury. And that was a positive. At the end, it ended with the CSIP, and I mentioned that was a limitation, but until then…. I mean that was the end of the process, so it wasn’t as if the contract was stopped there, but there was good engagement.
And then on a more parochial or administrative level, but it’s also very important for service providers, the invoicing and communications around administration were very well managed. So we never waited… Ya, there was a system of submissions, certainly we had to play quite a role working that out, I mean everything is outsourced, you know you don’t get given templates and this is how you must response. We had to set all the stuff up. And they appreciated our skill in doing that but they also played a very strong role in acknowledging that that was the right procedure that was set up for administration, and they responded to it. The one, the one big problem again related to outsourcing was that they didn’t pay us directly, the Development Bank (DBSA) paid us.
Yes I was going to say, were you procured through G-Tag or the DBSA, because that also has a whole lot of implications.
Ya, we went through the DBSA, and the DBSA was an appalling experience of the purely administrative level, you know we ended up, we ended up drawing up a table of indicators for invoice payment. OK, so if those indicators came with an invoice, pay! Tick off and pay. OK, because you’d send an invoice in and some body would come back, ‘No, now we want that’. Then you’d send that. ‘No, now we want that’.
And you’re sitting for 90 days and longer before the first invoices were paid. So, again, but that wasn’t…, that’s going back to the bigger picture issue we spoke about earlier, about outsourcing but, why can’t the Treasury pay its own invoices? Pay its own debtors? You know, I mean…. if somebody comes and fixes the roof of my house, I don’t go and hire you to go and check whether I should pay the invoice or not. You know….
OK, I’m getting on to the negatives. But those are the three positives, the nation building thing, the engagement that we did have around content and on their side – excluding the DBSA – they were very well administered and managed, and, uhm, if you left a phone message someone would come back to you. You weren’t stranded sort of not getting any response from them. They were very good on that.
Programme strengths-weaknesses – areas for improvement
The areas of improvement that I listed were also three, OK. I think, uhm, I think the first one, if you go back to this nation building contribution, I think spatial targeting and all of that is a particular approach to theory of change, right. And it’s an approach,…. And this wasn’t part of our brief, I know it wasn’t part of our brief, but neither was nation building part of our brief. So I think when you’re coming out there and you’re talking to people, I come from an NGO background in the transition from apartheid to post-apartheid, in development and…,
I got a PhD that looked at political economy of housing, as a sort of social benefit and all of that dah, dah, dah, so …, and there were other people on my team who had come with other things, so we had things to say, and including about my partner and I in this company, we had things to say about spatial targeting, and eventually wrote a critique of it. And we submitted it to the Treasury and we said we wanted to debate this in the spirit of nation building. No one is going to pay us for this. It’s not part of the job. But this is us.
And, and the response was I think uneven. The response was positive from certain people on the CSP. But it was also never ever followed up and I think we felt that we were pushing a lot more and in the end we presented the paper at a Centre at UCT. And that was not really a serious engagement with the Treasury. It wasn’t even a serious engagement with the people there, who I think are often also contracted by the Treasury to do work. So they are probably going to be careful about critiques that get presented there. So I think, I think that this involves a far more open attitude to other ideas and approaches, and not being wedded to this dogma as I call it, of spatial targeting.
Because, because I think spatial targeting is a blunt instrument to do what they’re doing. I think spatial targeting will, it’s certainly necessary to make cities more efficient and all of that, but there is a big question about whether it’s going to create jobs and put more money into poor peoples’ pockets. And at the end of the day you can have as efficient a city as you like, and more and more unemployment, that’s part of the problem that we have in the country. So, ja, they could be a lot more less dogmatic and more open.
The second point I’ve spoken about, this punitive attitude towards the municipalities. We had a similarly punitive attitude coming towards us. Around, around some work where they claimed we didn’t deliver on time. And we suffered almost a R100 000 loss. We never got paid for that. And, their sort of argument was, well, you know, those are your timelines, and you didn’t meet them. And our argument was, well it wasn’t very clear to us what…, you weren’t communicating very clearly to us, what you actually needed in this particular instance.
And I’m not saying that was a general problem. They were quite clear in other instances in their engagement. But in this particular instance it wasn’t, and yes, we had to take the hit. So I think, I think it’s a point about getting away from a punitive attitude into the basis of collegiality. And you can be very firm about your bottom line with your colleagues, but you can still make and maintain a collegial relationship and hear them out, and develop the relationship and make the compromises, that don’t undermine your principles or your bottom line of whatever. So that’s the second area where I think they need to look at, to maybe improve on.
And then coming out of that, is this question of communication, OK. I think I’ve given you one example where torturous communication, where we didn’t really know what they wanted as a deliverable. Because I think, what you need to understand is our initial proposal was reshaped as we went on. This was the nature of the project. We had to be flexible but we also had to patrol our scope of work. We had to say this is the playing field, you’re not just going to do everything. So we did quite a lot of work and there was a particular sub-project, it was called the Project Preparation Facility. Where a most confusing and convoluted brief was given to us.
I was the one who was actually briefed, so I’m talking about direct, problematic communication. And I think you need to communicate clearly to service providers, or to your own staff, whatever. What it is that you want. What the deliverables are. What are the outcomes. I’m not saying that you can’t be flexible in changing but your initial framework, your scope and your deliverables must be very clear, in simple English. And, yes, on that basis we can all be very flexible and change. Sure. Then I know I’m not doing ‘a’, I’m now going to do ‘z’. And I think when it comes to the interaction with the municipalities the same problem came up. And I think there it was the stone wall if you like, at times, and I think it’s a problem. It’s not the way to do things. So, I’ve been quite frank, but ja.
Overall, I don’t think any of us on the team regretted doing the project. We learnt a lot. We were enriched. But I think my point is was the nation built? The project isn’t about us walking out of there more skilled, highly flexible individuals, running around and popping in and out here and there. And feeling cool about ourselves when everywhere around us it’s falling apart.
OK, no, that’s great. Paul, thanks very much for being so candid, so far.
I’m still interested not only in kind of articulating how things could be different also in what your sense is of, sense of progress.
Because there are some people who feel like CSP model in the way we have discussed is very much a long-term endeavour. And assessing whether it’s reached its final end goal now, or even in 2018 is very premature. And whether the project as set out will in fact achieve the goals that it intends to. And some of that is reflecting that if we say we’re going to improve inter-governmental relations, has it actually happened?
And how much of that is within the ambit of the CSP, and how much of it is within the way you speak, a nation-building project? That far exceeds the reach or possibilities of the work of CSP. (inaudible)… how you actually think about that, because there are people who feel that CSP has really overextended itself in terms of what it thinks it’s able to achieve, not necessarily in terms of how it used its resources but that it set itself up for a very ambitious project that was not realistic.
And that they actually need to reflect and kind of think more concretely about what can actually be realistically achieved. Which may mean conceding that you’re not going to see significant economic growth after three years of building relationships. And that possibility has faced a fair amount of resistance because it has been taken up by people as suggesting a failure. More so actually saying we want to keep you grounded about what is actually possible. And that perhaps you should rather be focusing your energies at ‘x’ level versus ‘y’. But we’ll have to mull that over and think about it much more deeply about how we finish all the extensive interviews which we’re engaged in until end of June.
Programme strengths-weaknesses – greater outcomes
Ja, I mean I think just a quick response to that, I think the time, the time factor is important, and I do, I would agree that there needs to be a, and there needed to be some clearer concrete, and realistic, SMART indicators for the CSP. I think there was a view that I heard that given the fluid, sort of, it was interpreted, the fluid political situation that this programme could win support within government departments and become, almost a lobbying force for bigger policy changes.
So that’s part of, probably part of a theory of change. I didn’t really understand who those lobbying forces were. I think that at the moment, as we know, the Treasury is, its leadership and ideological direction has changed. I suspect the CSP was very at home under the previous ideological leadership, but I don’t know. It was never really clear to me. I think it wasn’t a strong, sort of, ideological commitment, or positioning. I didn’t expect that. But that clearly is part of the theory of change.
But the other thing that I just want to come back to is this thing about concrete indicators, you know, and achievables, Simple, Measurable, Realistic, Timelined, Resourced, and all of that.
One of the things, and this is an interesting example of how the bigger society has its own undermining effect on a programme that is even trying to be less ambitious. During the CSP’s, the work we were doing at the CSP, there was a strong lot of indicators that we were developing coming up around informal trading. We are looking at people who are marginalised, they’re coming into cities and surely they should be integrated in the centres of cities. Our thinking.
And at that point of time, it was the end of 2013, Parks Tau, the very progressive Mayor of Jo’burg, unleashed his metro police in quite a horrific way on a whole lot of traders in the Jo’burg inner city. And I remember talking to someone on the CSP team, saying I found it quite shocking and contradictory to what we were trying to achieve. And this person said, ja, they also did, and they tried to find out what’s going on from their Jo’burg municipal colleagues. So, in some ways, um, you trying maybe to lobby for governments, metropolitan governments to become much more flexible around integrating informal trading in, and making it easier for them, in the middle of central business districts, and not marginalising them, and then on the other hand, um, your people are contradicting that.
eThekwini has had a long history of attacks against informal traders. Cape Town at the same time had a few incidents, and I got involved in some research and some activism myself, around a lot of Cape Town’s informal trader-unfriendly practices, which is still going on. I was aware of one at the end of last year that I was called to look at. And in Stellenbosch where I live we had some pretty bad history of the undermining of local entrepreneurs. People who actually were very successful. People who sent their children to a private school that my wife and I wouldn’t have been able to afford our kids going to.
So, what I’m really trying to say is, yes I think much more focused on SMART, achievable indicators, but at the same time this bigger picture is always intruding and undermining those things. So you have to have a pretty sort of good risk analysis of each of those, what you think are SMART indicators. And you might… and in a way taken out of this bureaucratic, technocratic field where you think, you know, the planners can come in and save the world, which is what I think spatial planning is ultimately premised on. And I think that’s its great weakness. You know it rules the roost and it should be just another important technical skill. We certainly need, and as I say for efficient cities damn sure you need more ToD and all that.