Nene’s Brics bank job up for grabs

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Despite the apparent need to axe him, in a disastrous move that battered the economy, the job the former finance minister was supposed to get is not even guaranteed

The New Development Bank job that President Jacob Zuma nominated former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene for after axing him last year is being advertised – but there is no guarantee that Nene will get the position.

Leslie Maasdorp, the bank’s chief financial officer, said this week that Nene would be “considered” for the role of director-general of the New Development Bank’s African regional office, as the South African government had formally nominated Nene for the position.

“He was nominated for the role, so he will be considered. However, the New Development Bank does have its own processes and it is independent of the member countries,” he added this week during a telephonic interview from Shanghai.

When contacted this week, Nene declined to comment or respond to any questions. Nic Borain, a political and investment analyst at BNP Paribas Securities SA, said this week: “Let’s see if Nene gets the job. I will be surprised.”

The position of the head of the New Development Bank’s African regional office was a “lightweight admin job” relative to the job of finance minister that Nene once held, Borain added.

The New Development Bank website shows that the finance ministers of the five participating countries sit on the bank’s highest decision-making body, its board of governors, so if Zuma wanted Nene to participate in the New Development Bank, it could have been through this board.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan sits on the board, which was founded by the Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – last year.

Borain said: “Nene would be way overqualified to be head of the bank’s African regional office. That position is a major step down for Nene. Nominating Nene to that position was just a smoke screen [after firing him].”

The reason for the shock at the time that Zuma fired Nene in December was that no explanation was provided for his axing and the explanation of the move to the bank came as an afterthought, Borain added.

Two days after removing Nene, Zuma said: “The urgency of the changes in the leadership of National Treasury was occasioned by the need to send nominations to Shanghai, of the head of the African regional centre of the New Development Bank ... Nene is our candidate for this position.”

Borain said the fact that the position of director-general of the New Development Bank’s African regional office had been advertised was probably part of a normal recruitment process.

Zuma replaced Nene with little-known ANC MP David “Des” van Rooyen before reappointing Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.

Borain said it appeared that Zuma had fired Nene because of a number of factors, including his interventions to rescue a troubled SAA and his stance on the financing of the nuclear procurement programme.

“The markets also interpreted Nene’s firing as a raid on National Treasury by interests that wanted to get their hands on the coffers,” added Borain.

In the aftermath of Nene’s firing, the rand plunged to a record low against the US dollar and JSE stocks lost an estimated R170 billion in value.

Maasdorp said: “All the roles for the New Development Bank, not only this role for the director-general of the Africa regional centre, are being advertised, and people will be interviewed and appointed after a process, which our human resources department is managing.

“An impression should not be created that there is a different or unique process for the director-general role of the Africa regional centre,” said Maasdorp.

For all the positions advertised, preference would be given to candidates from Brics countries, he added.

Former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni is a member of the New Development Bank’s board of directors.

“For now, we are looking for a director-general in Johannesburg,” said Mboweni in a posting on his Twitter page this week.

Maasdorp said that the director-general, the post the New Development Bank was advertising on its website, would be the bank’s most senior official at the African regional office in Johannesburg.

“This position is responsible for managing African regional operations, and provides the primary strategic and operational interface between the headquarters of the bank, and its clients in South Africa and Africa,” said the job description on the bank’s website.

The director-general of the African regional office would report to the New Development Bank’s chief operating officer, Xian Zhu, added Maasdorp.

He was not able to clarify how many staff members the African regional office would have, but he said staff levels would grow as the bank’s lending book expanded.

The closing date for applications for the New Development Bank position is March 21.

Maasdorp said that once the deadline for applications had closed, the bank would short-list and interview prospective candidates.

Even without there being an African regional office set up, the New Development Bank was building up a pipeline of African projects from its headquarters in Shanghai, he said.

Next month, the bank would announce its full project list, he revealed.

In a statement this week, Treasury said the New Development Bank was formally “open for business”.

“The People’s Republic of China and the bank signed an agreement regarding the headquarters of the bank in Shanghai, China, on February 27,” added Treasury.

“The bank is in the process of establishing its Africa regional centre in Johannesburg ... Furthermore, the bank has begun its recruitment process and South Africans are encouraged to apply,” stated Treasury.

Phumza Macanda, a Treasury spokesperson, declined to answer further questions about the bank job.

Bongani Majola, a presidency spokesperson, did not return calls seeking comment.

The New Development Bank is aimed at helping emerging economies to fund their infrastructure and other development projects.

The bank was launched in July 2015 after a formal agreement on the bank’s establishment between Brics leaders at the group’s fifth annual summit, held in South Africa in March 2013.

The New Development Bank has started with subscribed capital of $50 billion (R763 billion), which is expected to increase to $100 billion over time.

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