Fighting graft not only lip service, says Nene as Treasury backs state capture inquiry

Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. (Bloomberg)
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. (Bloomberg)

Cape Town - National Treasury is not “paying lip service” when it comes to the fight against corruption, said Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.

The minister briefed the standing committee on finance in Parliament on Tuesday about Treasury’s strategic plan and shed some light on areas Treasury will be prioritising over the coming year.

Apart from being committed to driving “faster economic growth” and encouraging “significant new investment” in the economy through boosting investor confidence, Treasury is also focusing on its commitment to “ethical behaviour” and “ethical leadership”.

“We are geared to fighting corruption, [we are] not paying lip service,” he told the committee.

Treasury is both funding and supporting the commission of inquiry into state capture, by providing information on state-owned enterprise (SOE) procurement payments, and other forensic investigation reports. Treasury will also provide expert witnesses when required, he said.

Among Treasury’s priorities include rebuilding of the South African Revenue Service, and stabilising SOEs.

“We are building the future with constrained public finances,” he said.

Nene said that despite the constraints and the demand for R57bn to be made available for fee-free higher education at a late stage in the budgeting process last year, government managed to maintain the expenditure ceiling in 2017. The expenditure ceilings for the medium term (up until the year 2021) have been revised down.

Risks to the expenditure ceiling remain, these being the public-sector wage agreement and the financial position of several SOEs.

“We are working on rebuilding trust in public institutions,” he said. Particularly SOEs which pose a fiscal risk on government’s balance sheet are being dealt with.  

Deviations

“We have noted with concern the areas of deviations. These are areas we are paying attention to,” Nene said. Treasury is strengthening its oversight, tightening stipulations and addressing gaps in the process.

Nene said it was important to reconsider the guidelines for deviations as the process is being abused.

During a question and answer session, Director-General Dondo Mogajane said that Treasury’s process to approve deviations must be modernised and there is a need to change the policy framework on deviation, reiterating Nene’s view that it is being abused.

“It will be a critical move for us,” he said.

Treasury will on Wednesday brief the standing committee on public accounts on its report on deviations and expansions for national departments and entities for the first quarter of 2018.

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