The doomsayers were wrong, the sky did not fall

Predictions of economic doom and gloom at the appointment of Malusi Gigaba as Finance Minister have all proven to be false, writes NOMVULA MOKONYANE

In an editorial headlined “Gigaba: watch what he does, not what he says”, the Financial Mail dismisses the new Finance Minister as an egotist, a fashionista who knows very little about the portfolio to which he has been entrusted. 

“Malusi Gigaba is the kind of man who fell in love with himself at an early age and has remained faithful ever since. He clearly has an excellent tailor, an educated instinct for the cameras, and a marvellous relationship with the mirror. Of course, narcissism is not necessarily a liability in politics. It may even be a prerequisite. Think Tony Blair; George W Bush; Vladimir Putin or Napoleon Bonaparte,” read the first two paragraphs of the missive. 

It went downhill from then on, and even where it feigned a level of objective analysis, it always ended up swaying towards subjective drivel. 

“Gigaba has come across as diligent, sincere and dedicated. He is smooth and articulate and can think on his feet. His early comments after he was made finance minister suggested he had immediately grasped the importance of treasury and was aware it required more gravitas than any other government position (including Gigaba’s previous portfolios — home affairs and public enterprises).

“So, he made reassuring noises about fiscal discipline and — most soothingly for the business community — interpreted the slogan of “radical economic transformation” as more about present policy and plain economic growth. The 45-year-old son of a Reverend seemed genuinely concerned about restoring trust between government and business, repairing the damage done by the cabinet reshuffle, of which he was a beneficiary.

“Though young, he has been a full minister for the past seven years, and has come to be regarded as a senior man in both government and the ANC — despite evident failures in his previous jobs.”

All of this vitriol was inspired by the recent decision by the new Finance Minister to approve a R2.3 billion capital injection to allow the South African Airways to meet certain obligations to its creditors, and effectively remain afloat. This money, claimed the financial rag, was granted to SAA by Gigaba without imposing stringent conditions to be met by the airline. 

But that is actually half the truth. This is what Gigaba had to say when he was doorstepped by journalists at a SARS office in Orland East, just after National Treasury announced the provision to SAA. 

“I want that airline off my list of priorities. We just need to resolve the SAA dilemma, it’s been going on for too long.” 

He also instructed the ailing airline to finalise the appointment of a new and competent CEO and said it needed to implement a strict turnaround plan. Action to strengthen the Board and appoint a new chairperson would be taken in August, Gigaba added.

Recently, this very same Finance Minister announced a 14-point plan that includes the sale of non-core assets and the partial privatisation of some of the state-owned companies. 

The editorial by the Financial Mail is an example of the kind of unbalanced, all out attacks that Gigaba has endured since President Jacob Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet and made him Finance Minister. He has been painted as the poster boy of Radical Economic Transformation who is only in the position to unlock the fiscus for those intent on looting the state. 

How ironic that the chief representative of some misguided radical economic policy – as described by conservative economists and their backers – would in one of his major policy announcements, tell the world that he intends to dispose of some of the family jewels?

The Financial Mail chose to sensationalise the SAA capital injection without taking into account fully Gigaba’s own exasperation with the performance of the airline. Which Finance Minister, including their own darling Pravin Gordhan, would allow a National Carrier to die under his/her watch? How many cash injections did Pravin sanction towards this very same airline in both his stints as Finance Minister?

Yes, Gigaba’s appointment as Finance Minister came as a surprise to many, least of all himself. He is a novice in this position, but so was his predecessor and the one before them, prior to their appointments. Gigaba has vast experience in governing. He has served as Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Public Enterprises and was recently at Home Affairs before being moved to Finance. How more qualified does he need to be?

Immediately after his appointment, Gigaba went on an international roadshow to reassure investors that South Africa was still committed to macroeconomic stability, implementing the national development plan, maintaining investor confidence and investing in the economy through the infrastructure development programme. He repeated this at the World Economic Forum in May. 

It cannot entirely be true that the ratings agencies decided to downgrade South Africa’s sovereign credit rating on the basis of Gigaba’s appointment alone. There were other factors that were at play and the economy has not been functioning optimally, having battled to recover from the 2008 recession. The critics can say what they want to say, but this is the honest truth. 

Gigaba, much to the surprise of the naysayers, appointed a seasoned black bureaucrat as the new director-general of National Treasury. Many were predicting that he would bring with him someone from outside, with the mischievous implying that he would affirm a Gupta appointee. Instead, he appointed respected bureaucrat Dondo Mogajane. 

Mogajane joined National Treasury in 1999 and he has worked in various areas including Intergovernmental Relations, Provincial Budget Analysis and International Economic Relations divisions. Between 2007 and 2010, he represented South Africa at the Executive Board of the World Bank as senior advisor for Africa Group 1 countries. Mogajane was appointed as the Chief of Staff to former Minister Gordhan in the Ministry of Finance between 2010 and May 2014. He also acted as Chief Operating Officer of National Treasury from 2014 until June 2015.

Each day that passes, Gigaba silences the critics with his words and his actions. He might be new to the portfolio, but this is a seasoned Minister who will grow into the position. The sky didn’t fall when he was appointed, and eventually, the dark clouds will clear.

Mokonyane is the Minister of Water & Sanitation and a member of the ANC NEC  

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