JOHANNESBURG – President Cyril Ramaphosa announced yesterday that power utility Eskom was “being handled” as he prepares to lead a delegation of government officials, business and labour leaders to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, to promote South Africa as a compelling investment destination.
Team South Africa will convince investors the country is open for business as a “hot emerging market” and is also the most diversified economy in Africa, despite Eskom threatening to cripple the economy.
“There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel as to what we need to do to stabilise Eskom. We can say that Eskom is being handled,” Ramaphosa told government officials, high-profile chief executives and journalists at a pre-WEF breakfast held in Johannesburg yesterday.
Eskom, which has plunged the country into darkness with load shedding late last year, approached the National Energy Regulator of South Africa on Tuesday for a 15 percent hike over the next three years, saying its business model needed to be overhauled.
“We do not need to carry the burden to Davos with us… We have taken steps to address challenges at Eskom, Ramaphosa said.
In December Ramaphosa appointed a task team to deal with challenges at the national power utility that has grappled with financial woes, low stockpiles and corruption.
Ramaphosa and Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan met the task team to come up with proposals to turn around the struggling state-owned entity.
Ramaphosa also said that he was confident that Team South Africa was on a firm footing, ahead of the annual gathering of 3 000 business leaders, government officials and intellectuals that starts next Tuesday.
“We should not be discouraged by the lacklustre economic growth,” Ramaphosa said.
The World Bank lowered the country’s economic outlook last week to a lacklustre 1.3 percent in 2019 from the 1.8 percent that it estimated in June 2018, citing unemployment, slow growth in household credit extension and fiscal consolidation which curbs government spending.
Ramaphosa said that the government had lived up to its promises of rooting out corruption and better managing public finances made to investors last year.
The appointment of the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority was a case in point he said, adding that the process of appointing a new commissioner at the South African Revenue Services (Sars) was underway.
“Applications for a new head of Sars are in. We will be evaluating the applications and a new head will be identified,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa axed suspended Sars boss Tom Moyane after the inquiry commissioner, retired Judge Robert Nugent, had recommended his removal.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, also present, reiterated the call to unbundle non-core state-owned assets.
Ramaphosa said yesterday that the independence of the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) was sacrosanct as he allayed anxiety after comments in the manifesto by the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party, sparked fears that the central bank’s mandate would be changed.
Ramaphosa urged Team SA at the meeting to articulate a message that was coherent on issues like the central bank and land reform at yesterday's pre-WEF meeting in Johannesburg.
Responding to a question by JSE chairperson Nonkululeko Nyembezi on the independence of the central bank, Ramaphosa said that there was no need to worry.
“The Reserve Bank’s independence is sacrosanct and we have no intention of tampering with the independence of the central bank,” he said.