From banking clerk to Reserve Bank honcho

One of the longest serving Treasury officials, Lesetja Kganyago, has left the powerful director-general position to join the Reserve Bank as a deputy governor.

What are your responsibilities at the Reserve Bank? What would you like to achieve there?
At the media briefing where President Jacob Zuma announced my appointment, South African Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus indicated that my responsibilities would be decided after I join the Reserve Bank on May 16. Once I’m there we will sit together as a team and the governor will assign the responsibilities.

What was the best and the worst part of your job at National Treasury and do you have any regrets about leaving the department?
I have done 15 budgets in my life. I have been in the National Treasury for a very long time. It has always been a privilege and an honour to work in the National Treasury and to lead a team of very talented, dedicated and committed public servants.

We have made the National Treasury an employer of choice for professionals in finance, economics and accounting. National Treasury has developed a series of leadership development programmes targeted at the leadership team and its pipeline. The programmes were developed in-house and in partnership with local and international institutions such as GIBS, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Cambridge Leadership Associates.

Who do you think should replace you as the director-general of the National Treasury and what advice do you have for your successor?
The National Treasury has advertised the post of the director-general and may the best candidate win.

There is a perception that the Left has too much sway over macro-economic policy. Is this true? If it is not, what do you think creates this impression and how can it be corrected?
I am not sure what you mean by the Left. National Treasury implements government policies for the benefit of all South Africans.

You are arguably one of the most respected and influential directors-general within the South African government. How would you respond to some people seeing your move to take up a deputy position at the Reserve Bank as a demotion?
Public service is a calling for me. I had been called upon to serve and I did serve with distinction as the director-general of the National Treasury.

An opportunity has arisen whereby the president has called upon me once more to serve. Banking has always been my passion. My very first job was as a banking clerk. I am glad that the president has given me an opportunity to serve the country once again, this time as a deputy governor of the South African Reserve Bank.

Was money a consideration, since you will be earning probably double what you were earning as director-general?
The governor and the three deputy governors of the Reserve Bank are appointed by the president after consultations with the minister of finance and the board of the Reserve Bank. So, it would not have been possible for me to wake up one morning and decide that I now wanted to be a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank.

I was asked by the president to serve as a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and I accepted. If I wanted to, I could have served my remaining term at the National Treasury and thereafter joined the private sector for much more money than what I will earn at the Reserve Bank. Money was no consideration at all. Public service is a calling for me.

There is a perception that under Zuma’s regime the National Treasury has become weaker if compared to the support it used to receive from former president Thabo Mbeki. What is your take on this?
The National Treasury derives its mandate from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Public Finance Management Act. The act mandates the Treasury to:
» Promote government’s fiscal policy framework;
» Co-ordinate macro-economic policy and intergovernmental financial relations and manage the budget preparation process;
» Facilitate the Division of Revenue Act, which provides for an equitable distribution of nationally raised revenue between national, provincial and local government; and
» Monitor the implementation of provincial budgets.

To my knowledge the clauses in the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act that talk to the responsibilities of the National Treasury have not been amended since 2009, when President Zuma’s administration took office.

The relationship between labour and National Treasury seems to have improved since Tito Mboweni left the Reserve Bank. What role will you be playing to keep the peace between the Reserve Bank and labour, given that you were often seen as the henchman of policies they found offensive?
My responsibilities at the Reserve Bank will be decided after I join the bank. The policies that the National Treasury has been implementing for the past 17 years are government policies, policies that were approved by Cabinet. These policies were also informed by resolutions taken by members of the ruling party.

The national budget, for example, is a collective statement of the government of the day. National Treasury does the preparatory work and the budget is processed through the minister’s committee on the budget, which makes recommendations to Cabinet. In addition, the budget is approved by Parliament. So, this idea that National Treasury implements “its own” policies is utter nonsense.

You have been in the public sector for very long. Will you consider going into the private sector in future?
Public service is a calling for me.

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