No radical policy shift
Man who could be Manuel’s successor says he’s confident Treasury’s on track
NEWLY APPOINTED Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene may be working through an identity crisis caused by his “sudden” move into the executive arm of Government. However, after two weeks in his new office, he’s sure about one thing: South Africa’s macroeconomic policy – including inflation targeting – is spot on and the reason why it will weather the current financial storm.
Nene says the move into Cabinet from his previous position as chair of Parliament’s finance committee (where he was responsible for questioning policy and holding ministers like him to account) has been a radical shift. But the man who could be Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s successor – and who’s been bombarded with bad chair jokes over his instantaneous rise to web stardom following his infamous live interview on SABC recently, where his chair collapsed – says he’s “getting there”.
After an intense two-week induction into the work of Treasury and its related institutions, 51-year-old Nene – who has an honours degree in economics as well as a postgraduate economics diploma from the University of London – says: “I’m content we’re on track.”
But Nene concedes there’s debate in the ruling party and its alliance partners between those who believe in a more relaxed fiscal and monetary policy and those who think it’s the time to keep it tight. Nene falls into the latter camp.
While his KwaZulu-Natal roots have probably contributed to what his fellow MPs describe as his “sympathies” for ANC party president Jacob Zuma, the Democratic Alliance’s Kobus Marais says Nene was always open to constructive input from opposition parties.
Nene’s first appearance with his new boss (Manuel) before the finance committee he chaired until recently was to deliver a strong message to MPs and, indirectly, to Treasury’s vocal critics in the ANC alliance. The crux of their message was that SA’s policymakers have little room to manoeuvre. Policy has to be in sync with the current global financial realities if it has any hope of maintaining the kind of confidence and investment levels required to meet this country’s economic growth and development targets.
Nene shrugs off suggestions the confidence he expresses in the current economic policy strategy will raise hackles in the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu). Despite his reputation for a prudent approach to fiscal and macroeconomic policy, Cosatu has welcomed Nene’s appointment, saying he’ll not “impose a rigid ideological view”.
Cosatu says it looks forward to working with Nene to implement resolutions adopted at the ANC’s Polokwane conference, as well as those adopted at the alliance’s economic summit, where SA’s current macroeconomic policy and inflation targeting were key areas of contestation. Cosatu’s documents on the subjects disagreed fundamentally with Manuel’s approach. A task group was subsequently set up to assess the effectiveness of SA’s macroeconomic policy, especially in the face of the current global crisis.
Nene makes it plain a forum such as the alliance’s economic summit, as well as individual statements, don’t make policy: they “sustain” the debate. “It’s about debating policy and debating the right time to change it,” says Nene, who is confident the impasse between Government’s current policy and the demands being made by the ANC’s alliance partners isn’t irreconcilable. Aside from allowing debate on all issues, he says the key is for Government to make sure certain measures are built in at every level of policy and its implementation.
“Whatever policy position we take, we need to make sure that things like unemployment are adequately addressed,” he says, somewhat wide-eyed as he concedes “sitting on the other side of the fence” (in the executive) is going to be challenging.
But please, no more chair jokes…
Getting there. Nhlanhla Nene