CityPress - - Busi­ness -

Most ma­jor busi­ness lob­bies is­sued a vari­ant of the same state­ment: puz­zle­ment at the de­ci­sion, con­cern about los­ing what they see as gains made by Nh­lanhla Nene and a cau­tious olive branch to his re­place­ment, Des van Rooyen. From the Cham­ber of Mines to the SA Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try and the JSE, the over­all re­frain was “why?”.

As the most pow­er­ful min­is­ter in Cabi­net in a time of aus­ter­ity, Nene has hurt and up­set any num­ber of con­stituen­cies from the pres­i­dent down to lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Most spec­u­la­tion has cen­tred on im­me­di­ate con­tro­ver­sies: Trea­sury’s op­po­si­tion to a nu­clear build pro­gramme, its bat­tle with SAA CEO Dudu Myeni over buy­ing new Air­bus air­craft and even the re­fusal to al­low Zuma to buy a new of­fi­cial jet.

But Nene’s short term has seen Trea­sury take a hard line on other far more fun­da­men­tal is­sues that has ar­guably done un­told dam­age to po­lit­i­cal net­works all over the coun­try right be­fore a cru­cial lo­cal elec­tion.

Nene has been over­see­ing the long-over­due re­form of the na­tional ten­der sys­tem through the es­tab­lish­ment of the chief pro­cure­ment of­fi­cer, a cen­tral na­tional sup­plier data­base and an on­line ten­der por­tal geared at in­tro­duc­ing far more trans­parency into ten­der pro­cesses.

He has also taken a strict po­si­tion on the other ma­jor sphere of crony­ism, the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that of­ten fly un­der the radar and waste stag­ger­ing amounts of money. In March, he in­voked his pow­ers un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion to cut off 59 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, a fifth of the to­tal, from gov­ern­ment grants that pro­vide 40% of lo­cal gov­ern­ment rev­enue. This was a stick to force them into start­ing to clear their ar­rears with Eskom and wa­ter boards – ar­rears that would oth­er­wise be­come Trea­sury’s prob­lem when Eskom comes beg­ging for an­other bailout.

In Septem­ber, Nene also re­fused mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ re­quests for yet an­other ex­ten­sion to the 2007 reg­u­la­tions on min­i­mum job re­quire­ments in lo­cal gov­ern­ment. This pol­icy sets a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or equiv­a­lent cer­tifi­cate, as well as other cri­te­ria, as a ba­sic min­i­mum re­quire­ment to hold a se­nior po­si­tion in a mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The dead­line was last year and had al­ready been ex­tended once.

The move was meant to pro­fes­sion­alise mu­nic­i­pal man­age­ment and would, if noth­ing else, make it harder to dish out po­si­tions that in­volve ac­cess to pub­lic money.

All these in­ter­ven­tions in the lo­cal sphere of gov­ern­ment came ahead of next year’s elec­tions, where the ANC is ex­pected to face un­prece­dented com­pe­ti­tion.

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