In everything that we do to grow our economy, our main aim must be to improve the lives of South Africans. We want to build an inclusive economy that has a real impact on the quality of life of poor and working-class people.
As we work to create jobs and employment opportunities, we are also working to reduce the cost of living. This explains our efforts to bring down the cost of electricity, data, public transport, health care and education.
One of our tasks is to grow our economy by reducing the cost of doing business.
This morning, I am in London addressing the Financial Times Africa Summit 2019, a gathering of business people, investors and decision-makers. This event, taking place far from our shores, is important for the work we are doing to improve the lives of our people.
As we have all recognised, if we are to create jobs and reduce poverty, we need to grow our economy at a much faster pace. For that, we need much more investment, from both local and international business. We are using every available opportunity to reach out to investors to talk about the great business potential both in South Africa and across the African continent.
To attract investment we need to make it easier to do business in South Africa. In a competitive global environment, investors are looking for countries that can provide stable and sustained returns, while minimising risks and cost.
It is significant that the World Economic Forum in its 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, which was released last week, showed that South Africa has improved its ranking, climbing seven places since the previous year. This is a noteworthy achievement within a relatively short period of time.
The report is an annual assessment of the drivers of productivity and long-term economic growth in 141 economies. It ranks the respective economies on the strength of their institutions, infrastructure, adoption of information technology, financial systems, macroeconomic stability and business dynamism.
Ours is a bold vision. We want to be a destination of choice for foreign direct investment. Next month we will be hosting the second South Africa Investment Conference as part of our drive to attract R1.2 trillion in new investment over five years. The inaugural conference last year raised around R300 billion in committed investments, but we know that we need far-reaching reforms to achieve our target.
This is important for attracting foreign direct investment, but it is equally important – if not more so – for cultivating a new crop of home-grown companies. The most effective way to reduce poverty and create economic opportunities for South Africans living in townships and rural areas is by enabling them to start up and grow their own businesses.
While many entrepreneurs struggle to mobilise capital and access markets, they also find it difficult and costly to meet the regulatory requirements for starting and running a business. Key to this will be the introduction of a common application form across our development funding institutions. We are working to make business easier for both the person starting out in their garage and for the multinational looking to open a new factory.
We are making it easier to start a business, register a property, deal with construction permits, pay taxes and trade across borders. To promote greater efficiency, we are reducing the time it takes to grant licences and permits. We are working with business to ensure that the conditions attached to licences are not too onerous or costly. We have prioritised immigration reform to attract more skilled workers and to grow tourism.
Technology presents great opportunities to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Visitors to our country will soon be able to apply for an e-visa online. I recently signed a law to establish an Electronic Deeds Registration System that will improve turnaround times, enhance accuracy and make information more readily available.
Improving competitiveness is not only about the cost and ease of doing business. It is about institutional quality, restoring the balance of powers across different state entities, enhancing administrative efficiency and governance.
Perhaps the most important area of progress has been the renewed collaboration among all social partners on this programme of reform. At the meeting I have with leaders of business, labour and communities on the first Monday of each month, we are attending in detail to the measures that will make our economy more competitive. These measures are important not only to business, which is seeking decent returns on investment, but also to unions, who want more jobs and better working conditions, and to communities, who want to see living standards rise.
The path towards change is a difficult one and our challenges are significant, but we must forge ahead with our economic reforms because they are yielding results.