Minister stands his ground in the face of widespread criticism of his ‘neoliberal’ report and accusations of contravening party policy
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has a big fight on his hands as he tries to get his colleagues in Cabinet and leaders of the ANC alliance to buy into his plan to breathe life into South Africa’s moribund economy.
City Press understands that there is anger in the ANC and Cabinet about Mboweni’s “premature” release of the 77-page turnaround plan, with some saying that he should have consulted wider. Others say that he should have let President Cyril Ramaphosa own it.
Titled Economic Transformation, Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness: Towards an economic strategy for South Africa, the Treasury plan proposes a range of urgent reforms and interventions “to boost growth in the short term” and create “conditions for higher long-term sustainable growth”.
It argues that if these “concerted actions” are adopted, the economy could see growth of 2% to 3% over time and create a million job opportunities. But it appears to have already run into a wall of resistance.
Ministers missed several deadlines
Insiders have told City Press that most ministers failed to comply with a series of deadlines to make their contributions to the document, which has been in the cooking since late 2018.
Some argued that they had been ministers for only three months.
The deadline of August 15 was missed by the bulk of Mboweni’s colleagues in Cabinet, while others sent “only one-page inputs to the crucial discussion”.
Mboweni then extended the deadline a few times, but still no substantive inputs were forthcoming.
A high-ranking ANC leader said last week that Mboweni “released the paper prematurely”.
He said some ministers believed that they should have been afforded more time to discuss its contents thoroughly.
Within the ANC’s top structures there was also a feeling that there should have been more time given.
“As to why he [Mboweni] released the document, I do not know,” said a member of the national executive committee.
An associate of Mboweni said the minister published the paper on the Treasury website as he feared a leak.
“He was worried that various people already had it, including directors-general and ministers, so it was going to leak,” said the associate.
Mboweni’s fellow ministers must now give their comments, along with members of the public and other interested parties, before the final document is published on September 15.
‘We do not have time to waste’
An undeterred Mboweni told City Press that the “consultative document” was now public – “and anybody who has a view should submit it in writing and make their contribution, and not on television”.
“People must get used to open conversation and not condemn others, talking about right wing this and right wing that. They must just make a substantive contribution.”
He said the final version, incorporating all contributions, would be released on schedule.
“We are pressing the button and we do not have time to waste. This country needs movement,” he added.
However, Mboweni conceded that some new ministers may have required more time to provide substantive input.
“Perhaps, as part of their induction, this should have been brought to their attention. It may not have been fair on them.”
Mboweni did consult
At least two ministers in the economic cluster were willing to take some ownership of the document.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said that a “working document” was circulated to all ministers and they were requested to make inputs.
“Input and consultation are ongoing,” she added.
Kubayi-Ngubane said the document dealt with issues of safety in tourism, including “the use of the Visa regime as an enabler for South Africa as an attractive destination”.
She emphasised the need for “more support for the sector as it is critical to job creation and economic growth”.
Kubayi-Ngubane said the department had submitted a formal contribution.
“That is what we will continue to use as our method of engagement. We do feel that what was covered is broad enough to create a necessary platform for meaningful contribution.”
Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that her department made an input on the basis that “countries which have mastered coordinated business development support and eased access to finance for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) have witnessed employment-driven economic growth”.
She said South Africa’s policymaking for SMMEs “is scattered across several actors and is not coordinated to achieve fundamental change towards more supportive policies and less of a regulatory burden”.
“There is no centralised coordination of policies to enhance access to finance for SMMEs,” said Ntshavheni.
“Government’s provision of business development support on a national level is fragmented. The issue is exacerbated by limited coordination between national government and the municipalities.”
Speaking to City Press on the sidelines of a parliamentary briefing, National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane said Treasury had engaged with ministers and directors-general for input before releasing the report.
Alliance partners are fuming
Labour federation Cosatu’s first deputy-president, Mike Shingange, said Mboweni and Treasury were acting like a superministry which wanted to “bully every other minister and even contradict the president’s policy position”.
Shingange said Mboweni was contradicting Ramaphosa with regard to privatising Eskom, given that the president had not pronounced on the matter.
“Those documents make some point that Eskom must sell some of its assets to get money. That obviously contradicts the president,” he said.
The minister’s proposals also flew in the face of the ANC’s 2019 election manifesto, Shingange said, given that it contained economic turnaround proposals.
“But now all of a sudden you have a department that is producing a document not based on the manifesto.”
He compared Mboweni’s actions to the 1996 release of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy, which was also rejected by the left.
“So, we are seeing, without even looking at the content – and there is a lot in the content that we think is wrong – that the processing of the report is questionable. You cannot surprise the country like that,” said Shingange.
Branding the report “neoliberal”, the SA Communist Party (SACP) expressed concern about the “sudden” release of the plan, saying it had happened before the alliance was brought on board.
Mboweni’s critics are not ‘honest’
A close Ramaphosa ally sided with Mboweni, saying his detractors were not being “honest” and were “attacking him without even engaging with the document”.
The source said that some SACP leaders were Cabinet ministers and would have been privy to discussions before the document was released.
“This thing was discussed, and it was agreed that further consultation should be had before adopting the proposals in the document. It was even agreed that the alliance would also get to make an input.”
Referring to comments by some people in the ANC and Cabinet that Ramaphosa should have been the one to release the document, the source said: “They would have still said the same things even if was released by the president.
“For me, the release of the document is a good move because we can test where the industry is going in terms of views from analysts and economists. The unions would not help us with much, except to defend the indefensible.
“For our economy to grow, we must first shed some jobs so that we are able to create new jobs.”
Also backing the document was ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, who said it reflected a broader desire to lower public sector debt and boost business confidence.
“It also seems to have a great bias towards labour-intensive methods, including learnerships, and is targeted primarily at the youth,” said Mabe.