Erwin retirement

2008-05-21 00:00

It was confirmed at the weekend that Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin is to retire after the election next year. At first sight there’s nothing surprising about this: by 2009 Erwin, a quietly hardworking minister, will have held his portfolio for 15 years, and probably feels that he’ll have given as much as he can to the job. Besides, he reportedly indicated four years ago that he’d step down then.

Still, all may not be as it seems on the surface. Erwin may indeed be leaving because he’s tired and wants to retire, and not because he’s being driven out for political reasons. However, there are suggestions that things may not be this simple, and that conflict between him and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel over a proposed funding model for state-owned enterprises may have prompted the move at this particular time. Certainly, it’s likely that Erwin’s vision of state intervention in the country’s economy, will fail to meet the goal of uplifting the poor — a goal that becomes ever more pressing. It’s possible, also, that there’s been a gradual process of easing Erwin out, a process begun shortly after the notorious “bolt” explanation he gave for problems at Koeberg a few years ago. This one piece of ill-considered nonsense reflected badly on the government and immediately began to unravel the fine record that he had built as an energetic and conscientious minister. Inevitably, too, it linked him to the developing, and continuing, shambles at Eskom.

So, while the impending departure of one whose solid hard work has contributed a great deal to the country is to be regretted, Erwin deserves our respect for stating his intention to leave on his own terms, keeping as much as he can of his reputation intact. One cannot help wishing that a great many other public officials with far more dubious track records would have the grace to do the same.

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