Ferial Haffajee: Public Protector will fly six more sorties over the SA Reserve Bank in 2020

Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)
Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)

In 2020, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane will keep up her pressure on the SA Reserve Bank with six more investigations in the pipeline.

The central bank's governor, Lesetja Kganyago, has confirmed that there are six probes still pending into the bank. 

In December, News24 and amaBhungane revealed that Mkhwebane's "controversial June 2017 order directing Parliament to amend the Constitution to change the mandate of the SARB was handed to her on a piece of paper by a State Security Agency (SSA) official, an affidavit seen by News24 and amaBhungane states.

The wording of the SSA recommendation, which included exactly how the Constitution should be amended, found its way verbatim into Mkhwebane's final report, dubbed the CIEX report. This raises new questions about her relationship with the spy agency."

Mkhwebane's office denied the content of the article, attributing it to "disgruntled staff members". 

The six further investigations suggest the Public Protector will maintain her pressure on the SARB despite the December revelations. The central bank did not respond to queries for details about the investigations.

Turbulent Seas

In 2020, the Reserve Bank is likely to find itself once again swimming in turbulent political seas, not only from Mkhwebane, but also from the EFF and the ANC.

EFF leader Julius Malema has tabled a private member's bill at Parliament, calling for the nationalisation of the SARB. This resonates with an ANC resolution passed at its 2017 national conference to nationalise the bank.

Private shareholders hold a minority stake in the bank, and are paid minimal dividends. While they have no say over monetary policy, the call for nationalisation has become a battering ram for the so-called state capture faction of the ruling party. In June 2019, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule sent markets into a tailspin when he read a statement purporting to be from the party's NEC, which said that the mandate of the SARB would be changed.

He was forced to recant, but not before significant economic damage had been done. The SARB is also likely to be in the political cross-hairs again when the ANC goes into its mid-term national general council (NGC) in 2020 when delegates want to hear progress on resolutions.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa has kicked the SARB nationalisation resolution into touch since it was passed two years ago, it could come into focus again at the NGC when restive factions seek hooks for their lobbies.

But it is the investigations of the Public Protector which are potentially the most impactful for the central bank. The CIEX report required the bank to go to court several times to get Mkhwebane's order successfully reviewed.

That it now turns out that the order (Mkhwebane ordered Parliament to change the bank's mandate) was allegedly written by intelligence agents, only adds to the intrigue. It suggests an incursion into the central bank's independence by the country's own intelligence networks. If the six investigations also carry an intelligence imprimatur, this holds significant risk.

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