What Malusi GiGupta didn’t say

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Euse­bius McKaiser

The min­is­ter of fi­nance, Malusi GiGupta, cut a pa­thetic and un­con­vinc­ing fig­ure on Wed­nes­day as he de­liv­ered a medi­umterm bud­get pol­icy state­ment that sim­ply con­firms the con­se­quences of state cap­ture.

The aes­thet­ics of a beau­ti­fully tai­lored suit could not hide the nar­ra­tive of a state that is so rot­ten, it will take a mi­nor mir­a­cle for the ANC to re­cover from the sin of not hav­ing reined in Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma, his fel­low cronies and their Sax­on­wold she­been pup­pet masters.

GiGupta pre­tended as though num­bers have their own agency. He spoke — not very con­vinc­ingly but with some ef­fort — like a man­age­ment con­sul­tant, per­haps one work­ing for Tril­lian or McKin­sey, who hopes that an anal­y­sis of num­bers can shift the con­ver­sa­tion away from the hu­man be­ings be­hind the num­bers.

But that is a trick we can­not fall for. What GiGupta didn’t tell us mat­ters far more than what he did tell us.

To re­cap: he told us that the eco­nomic growth fore­cast is re­vised down­wards from 1.3% this year to a pal­try 0.7%, that the state failed to col­lect some R50.8-bil­lion in much­needed taxes, that the bud­get deficit is ex­pected to bal­loon from the tar­get of 3.1% to 4.3%, and that the gross na­tional debt could be about 60% of our gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in three years’ time. The last point would ne­ces­si­tate about 15% of the main bud­get be­ing spent on ser­vic­ing the debt we have ac­cu­mu­lated — an ex­pense that will out­strip what we spend on core gov­er­nance pri­or­i­ties such as so­cial se­cu­rity.

If you’re a sucker for pun­ish­ment or if you’re ad­dicted to an an­thro­pol­ogy of low ex­pec­ta­tions, then you might be tempted to pat him on the back for the hon­esty. Don’t do that. He is not in­no­cent in the story of how we landed in this hot mess.

Which brings me to what he didn’t tell you. He didn’t tell you that the bru­tal and un­for­giv­ing rea­son for th­ese num­bers is theft by Zuma and his friends, theft fa­cil­i­tated by mem­bers of the Zuma govern­ment — in­clud­ing him­self.

The mid-term bud­get state­ment de­scribed the sta­tus quo ac­cu­rately. But it in­ten­tion­ally ne­glected to de­scribe the state cap­ture pro­ject that is wholly re­spon­si­ble for low eco­nomic growth, a widen­ing bud­get deficit and a grow­ing debt bur­den.

Ob­vi­ously the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) won’t col­lect taxes as ef­fec­tively as it did five years ago, be­cause it is a site of con­tes­ta­tion in the bat­tle to cap­ture the state. Cor­rup­tion ex­plains why we have this rev­enue short­fall. GiGupta didn’t men­tion that lit­tle truth. Sars, like GiGupta him­self, is a shadow of its for­mer self.

The same goes for eco­nomic growth. I could not be­lieve the com­plete and ut­ter hubris when the min­is­ter waf­fled in plat­i­tudes about the the­o­ret­i­cal role of state-owned com­pa­nies as en­gines of growth.

What the fudge, Malusi? You en­abled key state-owned com­pa­nies to be hi­jacked from South Africa Inc by al­low­ing dodgy board and other ap­point­ments when you were min­is­ter of pub­lic en­ter­prises. The bull­dust at SAA, the loot­ing from Transnet and Eskom and other strate­gic state-owned en­ti­ties hap­pened on your watch.

That is the po­lit­i­cal legacy that GiGupta didn’t tell you about on Wed­nes­day. His en­tire speech made it seem as though he is an alien who ar­rived on Tues­day and was given a set of terse facts, and a Ben Okri quote to per­form the fol­low­ing day.

We wouldn’t be in this eco­nomic mess if the ANC wasn’t in the cri­sis­rid­den state it is in.

That is the stark truth: politi­cians, not cold num­bers and graphs, lie be­hind the state of our state. Un­less and un­til we ad­dress the state cap­ture ele­phant in the Sax­on­wold she­been, th­ese num­bers will sim­ply go from bad to worse.

But, of course, I didn’t ex­pect GiGupta to keep it real. How could he? He is im­pli­cated in the state cap­ture pro­ject.

He is be­holden to the grand­mas­ters us­ing him as a chess pawn in a game in which the tax­payer is un­der mas­sive at­tack be­cause those who are meant to be on our side are ac­tu­ally friends and em­ploy­ees of the en­emy. To add in­sult to state cap­ture in­jury, GiGupta shame­lessly thanked his pre­de­ces­sors in the fi­nance min­istry

Re­ally, dude? You thank folks like Pravin Gord­han who were cliffed by Atul Gupta pre­cisely be­cause Gord­han was an ob­sta­cle to the loot­ing. That shout-out to Gord­han and Trevor Manuel rang hol­low.

Just as hol­low as the Okri ref­er­ences to an imag­ined im­mi­nent har­vest. It would have been more po­et­i­cally apt to quote a dif­fer­ent Okri gift to the world, The Famished Road.

It of­ten feels like we are char­ac­ters float­ing be­tween a ma­te­rial world and a spir­i­tual one, with lit­tle har­vest to be ex­cited about, and plen­ti­ful dreami­ness to make sense of.

GiGupta, like his boss Zuma, is part of the prob­lem and there­fore can­not be a part­ner with civil so­ci­ety in search of ur­gent so­lu­tions.

Im­pli­cated: Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba’s im­pec­ca­bly tai­lored suit could not con­ceal the nar­ra­tive of a rot­ten state

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