CAPE TOWN – Finance Minister Tito Mboweni took to the podium yesterday to deliver his maiden Budget speech in Parliament he looked like someone who had settled in his new role.
He was confident, throwing jokes and taking pot shots at some of the senior MPs and ministers. But not once did he mince his words.
Earlier, he told journalists that he was ready to return after the May elections. “The after-May question, nobody knows what is going to happen after May 8. I have made a deal with DD Mabuza that ‘don’t worry Deputy President, I won’t abandon you so quickly. I will be around for a while’,” said Mboweni.
He also took time to explain how state-owned entities (SOEs) could be salvaged in a modern era.
His stature and posture in the House may have provided some chuckles in how he presented the Budget, even urging President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, Human Settlements Minister Nomaindia Mfeketo and Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota to mobilise people to pay for their municipal services.
He said they must use the methods they used during the apartheid era to urge people to boycott the services.
“You were good during the apartheid era. You were gallant fighters to encourage people not to pay for services,” he said.
Municipalities are owed more than R130 billion by departments, households and businesses. The bulk of the debt is from households.
Mboweni’s sense of humour extended when he spoke about the tough economic conditions the country was facing.
He took jibes at Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, telling him that he would not impose tax on sorghum beer as a present to his retirement.
And in his vintage style, he referred to South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) Governor Lesetja Kganyago as governor number 10 as he, Mboweni, was number 8.
But he was equally quick to emphasise the independence of the Sarb and said he will not interfere in the functioning of the bank.
Mboweni told journalists that he has full confidence in his director-general, Dondo Mogajane, despite the findings of the Public Protector against him.
Mboweni said Mogajane was a nice person who was “too Christian”. He intimated that the scriptures he quoted in his speech were from him.
In his parting shot to the media, he said he was going to the House to tell them about Isaiah. This was in reference to the verses he quoted from the Bible.
However, Mboweni was forthright about how the government planned to fix South Africa.
He used the analogy of the private sector that if things were not working, new systems would have to be developed. He said the country could not be stuck with the same things that never worked before, indicating that more changes could be in the pipeline on how the state functions, spends money and pays for services.
He said for people to get things right they needed to do basic things. In a hospital you need to wash the linen, and feed patients and the healthcare system could be fixed.
But Mboweni also acknowledged that pushing through the mooted reforms would require consultation with stakeholders while emphasising that negotiations could take place forever.
He also acknowledged that with Ramaphosa appearing to be keen on summits he also wants to add a summit in his list to discuss Eskom.