Gordhan’s hopeless mission
The mood as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan presented his budget on Wednesday was downcast. He had very little room to manoeuvre because of increasing debt, lack of economic growth and poor revenue collection, which fell short by R30 billion.
But the elephant in the room as he delivered the speech was the overwhelming stench of dirty politics in the National Assembly. Gordhan somehow remained upbeat despite intense speculation that he is a dead man walking.
Last year, a week before the budget speech, the Hawks confirmed that he was being investigated for his role in a “rogue unit” within the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
If you believed in conspiracies, you would have concluded that the information was deliberately disseminated to destabilise the budget.
This year, just days before the budget, the ANC confirmed that former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe would be sworn in as an MP. Even a hermit would probably know that this is the first step in a move towards some kind of reshuffle by the president that will target the finance portfolio.
Coincidentally, around the same time, the ANC Youth League called for the restructuring of Treasury and the dismissal of Gordhan.
A week before, President Jacob Zuma had announced that government would embark on radical economic transformation, creating some sort of expectation about the budget.
To state the obvious, these are not ideal conditions under which the finance minister should be presenting a budget.
The economic climate already made it difficult for any bold initiatives or new ideas, but the toxic politics severely hampered Treasury, an institution that has been declared persona non grata by many of Zuma’s allies.
For its history of excellence and insistence on compliance with the law, Treasury has frustrated many in government who want to loot.
Zuma started its emasculation by appointing to Sars an ally who is great on the politics front, but thin on the expertise of running the place. We are starting to reap the harvest of that, as evidenced by the poor collection of revenue.
With Molefe hovering around, we are on the verge of witnessing further devastation on the economic front.