Maya Fisher-French

CityPress - - Business And Tenders -

Over the past few days, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han has been dogged by ques­tions about his ten­ure. Dur­ing the var­i­ous press and pub­lic en­gage­ments, Gord­han, ever the true pub­lic ser­vant, has con­sis­tently replied that he “serves at the plea­sure of the pres­i­dent”. That has, how­ever, not stopped him from tack­ling the is­sue of ris­ing ten­sions with cer­tain fac­tions of govern­ment. A clearly frus­trated Gord­han has taken sev­eral swipes at those be­hind the cam­paign to re­move him from of­fice, in­clud­ing scathing re­marks about the se­lec­tive cov­er­age of Gupta-owned TV sta­tion ANN7.

He also ques­tioned the mo­tives of those be­hind fake Twit­ter ac­counts ask­ing what it is ex­actly that these peo­ple be­lieve Trea­sury is stand­ing in the way of. “That is the ques­tion we should be ask­ing,” he said at a post-bud­get break­fast, mak­ing clear ref­er­ence to ele­ments of state-cap­ture within the gov­ern­ing party.

He also made it clear that slo­gans such as “rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion” should not be hi­jacked by in­di­vid­u­als look­ing for per­sonal en­rich­ment. “We can’t go back to where we were last year with state cap­ture.”

The fact that SA Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) com­mis­sioner Tom Moy­ane was once again glar­ingly ab­sent at the bud­get press con­fer­ence – and did not even merit a men­tion – highlights the break­down of re­la­tion­ships be­tween the two most im­por­tant and pow­er­ful govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions – the one that col­lects the money and the one that al­lo­cates its ex­pen­di­ture.

If ei­ther of these two in­sti­tu­tions failed, govern­ment would col­lapse.

It also seems Gord­han is not hav­ing an easy time with SAA chair­per­son Dudu Myeni and com­mented dur­ing the bud­get press brief­ing that Myeni had not availed her­self for a meet­ing the pre­vi­ous week. Yet, de­spite – or per­haps in light of – these chal­lenges, Gord­han, deputy fi­nance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas and di­rec­tor-gen­eral Lungisa Fuzile spent the week prior to the bud­get us­ing plat­forms to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about how bud­get de­ci­sions are made, bring­ing an open and trans­par­ent ap­proach to how money is al­lo­cated, and the cur­rent fund­ing con­straints.

There has also been a strong em­pha­sis on the depth of ex­per­tise at Na­tional Trea­sury.

The night be­fore the bud­get ad­dress, jour­nal­ists were in­vited to meet with se­nior Trea­sury of­fi­cials for an un­prece­dented “net­work­ing” evening.

While it was made clear that no ques­tions could be asked about the con­tent of the bud­get, Fuzile used the op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce the jour­nal­ists to the var­i­ous tech­nocrats within the de­part­ment with an em­pha­sis on their skills and length of ser­vice.

The mes­sage was clear, this is an in­sti­tu­tion with a strong in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory; that they are tech­nocrats first and fore­most and not party politi­cians.

Yet, at the press con­fer­ence, the fol­low­ing morn­ing, both Fuzile and Gord­han made it clear that no mat­ter how strong an in­sti­tu­tion may be, it can be eas­ily torn down.

“It takes many years to build an in­sti­tu­tion, but a short time to mess it up, even an in­sti­tu­tion that you think is re­silient, overnight it can be dis­man­tled,” said Gord­han in a state­ment some jour­nal­ists took as a ref­er­ence to Sars.

He warned that so­ci­ety needed to be aware of the im­por­tance of sus­tain­ing good in­sti­tu­tions that were re­flec­tive of a demo­cratic so­ci­ety and not di­vided by sec­toral in­ter­ests.

“For the in­ter­ests of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to come, there are in­sti­tu­tions you do not mess with,” ar­gued Gord­han, referring to both Na­tional Trea­sury and Sars.

Fuzile ad­mit­ted that the high turnover of fi­nance min­is­ters had a de­mor­al­is­ing ef­fect, mak­ing good qual­ity staff more sus­cep­ti­ble to poach­ing, some­thing that had al­ready started to af­fect his de­part­ment, while Jonas added that po­lit­i­cal noise has a di­rect im­pact on what they do and “pa­tron­age has an im­pact on growth and re­dis­tri­bu­tion”.

Yet, the team sol­diers on, tak­ing ques­tions from jour­nal­ists and the pub­lic, mostly on ser­vice de­liv­ery – which should re­ally be han­dled by min­is­ters of the var­i­ous port­fo­lios. When a young school­girl asked the min­is­ter why chil­dren in the Eastern Cape had no ac­cess to school trans­port, she was told that it would be a sim­ple mat­ter of is­su­ing a grant, if only the de­part­ments of trans­port and ed­u­ca­tion could de­cide whose port­fo­lio it fell un­der.

Maybe next year we should have a post-bud­get dis­cus­sion with the min­is­ters re­spon­si­ble for the de­liv­ery of ser­vices, rather than just point­ing fin­gers at those do­ing their best to keep South Africa’s fi­nances sta­ble.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.