Ferial Haffajee: Ramaphosa set to merge two economic ministries

The Economic Development Ministry, currently headed by Minister Ebrahim Patel, is on the way out, Fin24 has reliably learnt.

It is set to be incorporated into the Department of Trade and Industry, as President Cyril Ramaphosa moves to reshape his Cabinet, according to sources with knowledge of Cabinet plans. 

SA's Cabinet is one of the largest in the world relative to the country's population and economy. It ballooned in size under former President Jacob Zuma, amid allegations he used Cabinet positions to reward various parts of his support base.

Neither Patel nor Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies made the cut to become MPs after the May 8 election. Both are now waiting to see whether Ramaphosa will bring them as independents: the President can appoint two outside talents to his Cabinet. The rest are drawn from MPs. 

Patel and Davies are both likely on tenterhooks as they wait to see if they will make the cut. Patel is particularly close to Ramaphosa and was a key organiser of 2018's Investment Summit. Ramaphosa referred to the summit several times on the election campaign as a high mark of his first term, and a taster of things to come.   

The president is a firm believer in the power of Foreign Direct Investment as a growth driver. The summit drew over R300bn worth of investment promises, and Presidency officials say almost half of that investment is already in the works. The summit will be an annual event, which may put Patel in the running for a Cabinet role.

"What Ebrahim Patel has done very well is his work on the Competition Commission and the Competition Tribunal. Cartels in construction and other sectors have been broken," says political analyst Lumkile Mondi, adding the move to reincorporate the functions of the economic development department into the department of trade and industry is an important step.  

Davies would like to oversee the changes to the department in a handover period, but the jury is out on whether the 70-year-old minister will get a place in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet. Officials have suggested that ANC rising star David Masondo could be given the job. He is a former Limpopo MEC for Finance.

Ramaphosa’s Cabinet is likely to feature a number of young people. His term, which begins on Saturday, is really his first. Until now, he has been the caretaker of Zuma’s last Cabinet.

The teams working on Ramaphosa’s new Cabinet are considering significant consolidations: it is also likely that the minerals and energy ministries could be combined as they were in the past.  On the other hand, with new energy forms rapidly in the ascendancy, this may not necessarily be a logical combination.   

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