The new Minister of Finance gave his first press conference on Saturday that proved to be a lengthy affair. Here are the key takeaways from the two-and-a-half hour session with minister Gigaba, his deputy, Sfiso Buthelezi and Treasury’s Director-General Lungisa Fuzile.
1. The minister paid tribute to his predecessors, and aspires to be as good as they were. He would not however, be drawn on why Gordhan was fired, but he acknowledges the highly politicised environment he inherits this role in, and will do all that he can to ensure transparency.
2. He is committed to ensuring the country maintains its investment credit rating. “I can’t divulge the contents of the conversation with the ratings agencies. We had good, cordial and robust discussions with them.” He is also committed to continuing the fiscal path set by Gordhan and identified approval of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework by parliament as his number one objective.
3. But he did cite the “narrative” around Treasury as something he wanted to change. “For too long there has been a narrative that Treasury is beholden to White Monopoly Capital, foreign investors and ratings agencies. “We must never lose sight that we remain accountable to the people of South Africa,” he said.
4. “Radical economic transformation” was frequently cited. “Radical economic transformation is about changing the structure of the economy to bring in as many people as possible, but everything will be done within the fiscal constraints we have set ourselves. The policy has been agreed to by Cabinet. They are collective decisions. We will use government’s vast procurement budget to encourage black ownership.”
5. The minister stated for the record he has no outside business interests.Aside from a house that he owns and rents out in Centurion, the minister said that his only income comes from his government salary. He also said his lawyers would respond to aspersions cast on him by Julius Malema. But, he did not respond to a question about his relationship with the Guptas.
6. Gigaba will keep Treasury’s long serving Director-General, Lungisa Fuzile, in place. “We understand that as politicians we do not have specific expertise when we come into these portfolios. I trust Lungisa, the deputy minister trusts him. So we look forward to working with him.” Fuzile indicated that his role is particularly taxing, and anticipates leaving when his contract comes to an end (it has about two years to run).
7. He toed the party line on nuclear. “We will implement nuclear at a pace and scale the country can afford.” These were also the exact words of Pravin Gordhan on Saturday at Kathrada’s memorial service.
8. Gigaba wants better governance at SOEs: “I support the review of the governance framework of SOEs. I think we should all improve the governance of SOEs. The current fiscal constraints have put all of us in a situation where we need to invest in infrastructure roll-out against a slowing economy. We will work with shareholder ministers to improve governance and balance sheets at these companies.”
9. He will meet with Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas on Monday morning.
10. The court case against Oakbay will not be withdrawn. “It will not be my decision to plead differently.”
Of course, the biggest difference from being the Minister of Finance in relation to any other minister, is that you have a constituent – the financial markets – that are fickle and ruthless, and pay short shrift to political platitudes. They are also ever present and “vote” whenever they feel like it. The minister has started on the right foot, but he will be subject to a level of scrutiny no other public servant in the history of this country has ever been exposed to. Let’s hope he ends up on the right side of it.
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