Trea­sury ex­o­dus be­gins over ‘son-in-law’ plan

The Times (South Africa) - - Front Page - By Ran­jeni Munusamy

● Fears are ris­ing that the res­ig­na­tion of the Na­tional Trea­sury’s Bud­get chief, Michael Sachs, will prompt other of­fi­cials who served un­der former fi­nance min­is­ters Pravin Gord­han and Nh­lanhla Nene to quit.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s in­ten­tion to re­vise the na­tional bud­get and cut back spend­ing on govern­ment pro­grammes to in­tro­duce free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion is shak­ing the foun­da­tions of the Trea­sury and could lead to an ex­o­dus of more highly re­spected of­fi­cials whose jobs are be­ing un­der­mined.

Among those on the dan­ger list is Tax and Fi­nan­cial Sec­tor Pol­icy deputy direc­tor-gen­eral Is­mail Momo­niat, who had been cen­tral to the Trea­sury’s pol­icy plan­ning mech­a­nism.

When Zuma fired Gord­han and Mce­bisi Jonas in his mid­night reshuf­fle at the end of March, it was ex­pected that Sachs and Momo­niat would fol­low former direc­tor-gen­eral Lungisa Fuzile out of the Trea­sury.

They were key mem­bers of the Gord­hanJonas-Fuzile crack team that drove the eco­nomic res­cue mis­sion after Nene’s fir­ing in De­cem­ber 2015. If Zuma and the Gup­tas wanted the Trea­sury’s three top guns gone, why would Sachs and Momo­niat be wanted?

But the two were con­vinced to stay on, in the na­tional in­ter­est and to keep the na­tional Trea­sury ma­chin­ery func­tion­ing.

Malusi Gi­gaba brought in nearly 20 staff mem­bers when he was ap­pointed fi­nance min­is­ter, set­ting up a par­al­lel ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But none of them could su­per­sede the ex­per­tise, wealth of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence that pub­lic ser­vants like Sachs and Momo­niat brought to govern­ment, as well as their com­mit­ment to get­ting things right even through the com­mo­tion of the past few months.

Those who watched Gi­gaba fum­ble through his job say he came to ap­pre­ci­ate Sachs’ ex­per­tise in the bud­get­ing process.

Sachs, who has been at the Trea­sury since 2007 in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties, was largely re­spon­si­ble for com­pil­ing the state­ment.

Among Sachs’ re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were ex­pen­di­ture plan­ning, fis­cal pol­icy and pub­lic fi­nance sta­tis­tics.

He was a core mem­ber of the Gord­hanJonas team that had put shoul­der to the wheel to cut waste, con­sol­i­date spend­ing and di­rect re­sources to where they were most needed.

Ear­lier this year, the cab­i­net ap­proved a pro­posal for the bud­get­ing process to be moved to the Pres­i­dency. It was ini­tially un­clear what this meant.

Since then the De­part­ment of Plan­ning, Mon­i­tor­ing and Eval­u­a­tion com­piled a “man­date pa­per” set­ting out the bud­get pri­or­i­ties. Then a “Pres­i­den­tial Fis­cal Com­mit­tee” took over de­ci­sion-mak­ing on the bud­get.

Then last week, Zuma had ev­ery in­ten­tion of an­nounc­ing a free higher ed­u­ca­tion plan de­vised by his daugh­ter’s ex-boyfriend Mor­ris Ma­sutha, known in govern­ment cir­cles as “the son-in-law”.

Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe and his direc­tor-gen­eral Mpumi Mpofu have been ap­prais­ing bud­gets across govern­ment to make avail­able R40-bil­lion to fund Ma­sutha’s plan. This would in­volve cut­ting back pro­grammes and al­lo­ca­tions that are de­vised through an ex­ten­sive and metic­u­lous bud­get­ing process.

Sachs ap­par­ently

drafted his let­ter of res­ig­na­tion last week when it be­came clear that the Pres­i­dency was un­der­min­ing the en­tire na­tional bud­get. On Mon­day the Trea­sury con­firmed his res­ig­na­tion.

Of­fi­cials in the Trea­sury and other de­part­ments wor­ried about the con­se­quences of Sachs’ res­ig­na­tion say they feel be­trayed by Radebe, who should have re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in such a dan­ger­ous process.

On Mon­day, Zuma sud­denly re­leased the re­port of the He­her Com­mis­sion of in­quiry into the fea­si­bil­ity of free higher ed­u­ca­tion after mount­ing pub­lic pres­sure about the free ed­u­ca­tion plan. The re­port rec­om­mends that the govern­ment in­crease its ex­pen­di­ture on higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing to at least 1% of GDP, but said there was “in­suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity in the state to pro­vide to­tally free higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing”.

Zuma said the in­ter­min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee on higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, led by Radebe, and Gi­gaba, as the lead min­is­ter in the Pres­i­den­tial Fis­cal Com­mit­tee, were pro­cess­ing the re­port.

“I will make a pro­nounce­ment on the re­port once the min­is­ters have con­cluded their work,” Zuma said.

This could mean that, de­spite the alarm bells ring­ing and free higher ed­u­ca­tion be­ing nei­ther ANC nor govern­ment pol­icy, Zuma still in­tends to press ahead with an­nounc­ing Ma­sutha’s plan.

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