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Gareth Ackerman Says Business Sector Has to Step up to Help Solve the Country’s Economic/Infrastructure Problems

The co-chairman of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) Gareth Ackerman today said the private sector cannot longer wait for government to solve the country’s worsening infrastructure crisis because the state is failing to deliver. Addressing the annual summit of the CGCSA in Sandton, Ackerman said businesses will have to provide solutions than wait for the government to step in.

Ackerman questioned why the government is not dealing with alleged corruption at Eskom where there have been allegations of the utility being supplied with low quality coal for its power stations. “We need to ask ourselves what is going on, why is Eskom is paying for good coal and yet poor grade coal is delivered, and people are stealing and causing sabotage. People are doing it for greed and there is unprecedented levels of corruption at Eskom and there are too many vested interests. The question is why can’t government stop this, and we as businesses we need to ask this more and more because it is affecting our companies, the way we do business and growth,” Ackerman said.

Another concern was the inefficiency at the ports which he said was affecting supply chains of many companies. “We need resilient supply chain and South Africa’s ports are now sitting at the bottom of the barrel in terms of efficiency. Companies will have to look at using alternative ports than wait and waste time with goods sitting at harbours. Our roads need much maintenance because the railway is not working efficiently and as business will increasingly have to find our own solutions or else we will not fill our supply chain,” Ackerman said.

He said the regulatory environment needs to improve, citing the inordinate delays multinationals have faced when applying for work visas for expatriate staff. He cited the example of the CEO of one of the largest employers in the country who had to wait for more than six months before his work visa was renewed. “We are short of skilled labour yet we have had problems getting work visas. These are short-sighted policies we need to solve because we need skills to grow the economy” Ackerman said.

He also said South African companies have no choice but to invest in sustainability because it was good for business, customers and increasingly investors were focusing on ESG factors before making investment decisions. He said South African companies were lagging behind their global peers when it comes to responding to concerns about ESG. He said companies should make ESG a priority or risk being forced through regulations.

Ackerman said the retail sector plays a major role in ensuring national food security in South Africa, citing the role the retail sector played in averting a worse food crisis during the unrest in KZN and Gauteng in July last year. “Food security is so critical to South Africa and we need to ensure the food is sufficient, nutritious and accessible everybody,” Ackerman said. He also called for redoubled efforts to reduce food loss and waste, and to invest more in decarbonisation and reduce environmental damage through sustainable business practices and manufacturing processes. In addition, he said community and national efforts are needed to deal with plastic waste which is destroying the environment.

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