JZ’s He­her trick, heh-heh-heh

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - OPINION - Martin Wil­liams

It’s no use cel­e­brat­ing every new dis­clo­sure about cor­rup­tion as if th­ese are break­throughs that will stop not-my-pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. That won’t hap­pen soon. Un­de­terred, su­per-rich Zuma and cronies con­tinue ever-more au­da­cious schemes to steal pub­lic money, while poor chil­dren die in pit la­trines.

De­void of con­science, Zuma feels no guilt. And none in his in­ner cir­cle faces any charges.

The lat­est topic for Zuma to ex­ploit po­lit­i­cally and fi­nan­cially is stu­dent fees. He knew that stu­dents would not like the He­her Com­mis­sion re­port, which found that uni­ver­sal free higher ed­u­ca­tion is un­af­ford­able (not fees-ible?).

Re­leas­ing the He­her re­port on Mon­day was a cun­ning move. It paves the way for a more rad­i­cal, pop­ulist plan. In pro­mot­ing this al­ter­na­tive, Zuma sub­verts Trea­sury’s con­trol of the purse strings. That’s some­thing which pre­vi­ous fi­nance min­is­ters Nh­lanhla Nene and Pravin Gord­han pre­vented him from do­ing.

Zuma by­passed Trea­sury sys­tems by push­ing an un­af­ford­able “free” ed­u­ca­tion plan con­cocted by Morris Ma­sutha, an ex-boyfriend of one of his many daugh­ters. This un­der­mines the pro­fes­sion­ally crafted, legally sound sys­tem through which bud­get pro­pos­als are costed and their fea­si­bil­ity as­sessed by ex­perts.

That sys­tem was honed over many years by the likes of Gord­han, Nene and Trevor Manuel, whose sure-foot­ed­ness in­spired na­tional and in­ter­na­tional con­fi­dence. With dilet­tante fash­ion­ista and Gupta ser­vant Malusi Gi­gaba now head­ing the fi­nance min­istry, Zuma has a freer hand.

How­ever, Zuma’s an­tics were too much for Michael Sachs, out­go­ing deputy-di­rec­tor of bud­get­ing in the Trea­sury. Ac­cord­ing to Busi­ness Day, Sachs re­signed “be­cause the bud­get process – a care­fully man­aged, trans­par­ent process in­formed by Trea­sury and presided over by the min­is­ter’s com­mit­tee on the bud­get – is dead”.

Be­fore the Ma­sutha plan, Zuma has been steadily erod­ing Trea­sury’s power any­way, by ap­point­ing a “pres­i­dent’s fis­cal com­mit­tee”. In ad­di­tion, the de­part­ment of mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion, un­der Min­is­ter Jeff Radebe in the pres­i­dency, fur­ther di­lutes Trea­sury’s in­flu­ence. Both bod­ies lack bud­get ex­per­tise but are will­ing to do Zuma’s bid­ding.

Sachs’ res­ig­na­tion high­lights the dan­ger Zuma poses to SA’s fi­nan­cial fu­ture. Some sug­gest it will trig­ger a re­volt at Trea­sury. But an ex­o­dus leaves Zuma in con­trol. Every time a sub­stan­tial cus­to­dian is squeezed out, the plun­der­ers gain ad­van­tage.

With peo­ple such as Sachs out of the way, Zuma has greater scope to punt the “free” ed­u­ca­tion plan, which has a R40 bil­lion price tag. Bear­ing in mind the cur­rent R50 bil­lion rev­enue short­fall, it is ob­vi­ous that Ma­sutha’s scheme can­not work.

That won’t trou­ble Zuma, to whom af­ford­abil­ity is mean­ing­less. Reck­lessly, he seeks to bur­nish his legacy as a cham­pion of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, and use pop­ulist sen­ti­ment to bol­ster the elec­toral chances of his pre­ferred suc­ces­sor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

If she wins next month’s ANC lead­er­ship con­test, he stays on as SA pres­i­dent un­til 2019.

And poor peo­ple will have to wait longer for safe, clean toi­lets.

DA city coun­cil­lor in Jo­han­nes­burg Reck­lessly, Zuma seeks to bur­nish his legacy as a cham­pion of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, and use pop­ulist sen­ti­ment to bol­ster the elec­toral chances of his pre­ferred suc­ces­sor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

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