Hassle-FREE Online Campaigns On Sweech
One is left with the distinct impression after a budget – or in the case of this week, a medium-term budget policy statement – that South Africa has two governments, or at least two governing groups in the cabinet that have entirely divergent economic agendas.
On the one side are the good okes: Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, his deputy Nhlanhla Nene, National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and possibly Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. On the other side is the bulk of the economic cluster of ministers. They include Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, who simply wants to turbo-charge the size and scope of the government, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
In charge of them all is the increasingly bumbling President Jacob Zuma, who does not appear to understand that more government is not necessarily better. However, somewhere along the line he has been convinced that Manuel’s National Development Plan, which looks more favourably on business and free markets, should be the blueprint, or at least one of the blueprints alongside the New Growth Path and an assortment of dotty economic agendas.
All this confusion means that the government spews out mixed economic signals. Shabangu wants a 20 percent stake in oil and gas extraction operations for the state, and a further 30 percent if the government thinks it would be nice to have.
That is not policy yet, but the proposal sends a deeply negative signal to big companies that are poised to spend hundreds of millions – if not billions – of rand on fracking for gas in the Karoo, or seeking oil and gas offshore. South Africa could well find significant stores of these resources, so it is potentially a energy game changer for the country, which has always been dependent on imported oil in particular. So the stakes are high.
My colleague Ethel Hazelhurst and I interviewed National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile on Wednesday to seek first-hand responses to what we view as the policy madness of the Leftist gang in cabinet. Is he not concerned about the signals this stance – albeit not yet policy – has on investor confidence? Is the Treasury not worried about the ever-expanding role of the state, something which I suggested Manuel would not have countenanced during his term as finance minister?
Fuzile argued that the 20 percent free carry rule was envisaged only for gas (and oil), not minerals, but Treasury media officer Phumza Macanda objected to our line of questioning. This, she said, was the terrain of the Mineral Resources Department.
We continued our questioning, arguing that these were key economic questions and must, surely, be canvassed with the Treasury. When Macanda again demanded that we change our tack to pose so-called “Treasury-related” questions, I objected strongly. It was not for her to determine the line of questioning of journalists during an interview. It was totally unacceptable for her to intervene and “gatekeep”, as I put it.
The atmosphere, of course, turned sour. The director-general, clearly reluctant to enter a prickly terrain, himself argued that the amendments to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act were still in the process of negotiation. The end result of the parliamentary processes could well see substantial changes to the legislation. He is right, of course.
But this unseemly squabble underpins the essential problem of this government: the good people find themselves having to straddle a divide that does not make economic sense.