No comment, Sachs says over Masutha's fee free 'lying' claim

2018-01-04 15:20
Michael Sachs. (Image via YouTube)

Michael Sachs. (Image via YouTube)

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Johannesburg - Former National Treasury deputy director-general of the budget office Michael Sachs said on Thursday that he did not want to respond to claims by alleged presidential advisor, Mukovhe Morris Masutha, that he had lied about the cost of free education.

"I think I don’t have any comment," said Sachs when asked about his response to Masutha’s claim which was made during a TV interview with eNCA.

"What’s the point?" added Sachs when told of Masutha’s statements against him.

During the TV interview which took place on Wednesday, Masutha claimed that it would only cost R12.5bn to provide funding for the group designated as qualifying for free higher education by President Jacob Zuma.

Read: BREAKING: Zuma announces free higher education for poor 

When asked about why the previous figure put forward was R40bn, at first Masutha attributed this number to the Sunday Times, which he claimed earlier was guilty of "fake news".

eNCA Interviewer Joanne Joseph, then told him that, in fact, the cost of R40bn was calculated by Treasury.

"Michael Sachs was the man who put forward the figure of R40bn," she said.

"Then he lied to you," retorted Masutha immediately – adding that Sachs "needs to relook at his calculator".

In November last year, Sachs resigned from his position, after nearly a decade of service in the Treasury.

Move motivated by interference

At the time, Fin24 reported that his move was motivated by interference by the Presidency’s steamrolling of the free higher education.

"Michael didn’t necessarily oppose the idea of free education, but he wouldn’t stand for the interference in the budget process," a source told Fin24 at the time.

The City Press newspaper also quoted a communiqué from Sachs sent to both Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and to Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane in which Sachs apparently wrote: "I am determined to terminate my employment at National Treasury before the end of the year as I cannot, in good conscience, lead the process of preparing the 2018 budget in the current circumstances." 

Last month, Zuma announced that free higher education would be made available to students from households that have a combined annual income of R350 000.

His announcement followed a report into university funding in August. The report was compiled by the Heher Commission of Inquiry after widespread protests at universities over fees, and it found that universal free education was not feasible.

Read: Opposition calls for leadership on free higher education

At the time, even National Treasury appeared to have been somewhat startled by Zuma’s offer. It subsequently released a short statement at the time, saying that it "notes the announcement" and was reviewing funding proposals.

Late last year, reports emerged that Masutha, who previously dated Zuma’s daughter, had advised the president on the new funding model.

'A mere researcher'

During Wednesday’s interview, Masutha denied that he had shaped the funding model announced by Zuma.

During the interview, he described himself as "but a mere researcher" and a "mere body of opinion" who had, amongst many others, contributed to the Heher Commission.

"I am nowhere near the originator of the plan," he said.

He furthermore described the Heher Commission as "not experts, they are just a body of opinion".

Masutha also suggested that it was the greed of student loan organisations that drove criticism of the new funding model.

"There are a number of defenders and beneficiaries of the current multibillion rand loan scheme who are kicking and screaming because when the president's, or government’s, decision kicks in – a whole host of the student loan market is going to evaporate and disappear immediately… So people are protecting their profits and looking for scapegoats."

On Thursday, Masutha was then interviewed by SABC news

During this TV appearance he declared that the issue of providing free education to the needy was "way beyond feasibility: It is an issue of life and death".

He said that his was because the country needed to ensure the youth were skilled in order to contribute to growing the economy.

Denying reports

During this interview, he again denied reports that he had masterminded Zuma’s decision on higher education funding.

"The closest proximity, I have to him (Zuma) – is that he is my president." 

At the launch of the Masutha's Thusanani Foundation at Wits in 2014, Zuma was there and was acknowledged by Masutha. 

"Mr President, special thanks to you for squeezing us into your busy schedule," Masutha said at the time 

In their speeches, both he and Zuma said that it was the Jacob Zuma Foundation that funded numerous Thusanani Foundation students.

At an inaugural fundraising dinner in 2015 for the Thusanani Foundation both Zuma and former AU commission chair and losing ANC presidential candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma were guest speakers and were on the stage with Masutha. 

News24 revealed in November that Masutha, who was a prominent leader in the Fees Must Fall campaign, had been listed as an employee of the State Security Agency (SSA) during his time as a student activist at Wits University.

Later, Masutha told PowerFM that he was not a spy for the SSA, but his first job was in economic intelligence, because that was his major at university.

Earlier this week, vice-chancellors expressed concern over the implementation of Zuma's fee free decision, saying that they hoped to set up a meeting with the department of higher education as to how the model would work in practice – since they were "taken by surprise" over the announcement in December.

"The big challenge is to understand how to roll out the system, to understand what the risks are and to mitigate them," said USAf CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa.

Read more on:    heher commission  |  michael sachs  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  university fees

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