President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG - A senior official at South Africa’s Treasury quit last week complaining that President Jacob Zuma was interfering in the budget process, local media said on Monday, a report that weakened the rand by 1%.

Markets have been spooked by reports in recent days suggesting Zuma is close to announcing plans to introduce free tertiary education, a move that would pressure already strained public finances and worry ratings agencies.

Michael Sachs, the Deputy Director General who heads up the Budget Office, resigned last week over interference by Zuma at the Treasury, Fin24 said, citing two sources close to Treasury.

The rand was down 0.92% at R14.51 to the U.S. dollar by after slipping to a one-year low on Friday on concerns about a possible ratings downgrade should Zuma announce increased education spending.

Government bonds also weakened with the yield on the benchmark 2026 issue up 14 basis points to 9.495 percent.

On Sunday, the presidency said no decision on tertiary education spending would be made until Zuma had reviewed a report produced by a Commission of Inquiry studying the feasibility of such a programme.

The report of the Commission will be released at 12 p.m. on Monday, the presidency said.

Presidency spokesman Bongani Nqulunga said he could not immediately respond.

The cost of university is a highly charged political issue in South Africa and has been the subject of lengthy student protests in recent years. Fee-free tertiary education would be popular with many poorer voters.

Sachs has said free tertiary education was unaffordable in current economic climate where the country faces a revenue budget gap of over R50 billion.

National Treasury declined to comment on Sachs’ resignation, saying it would release a statement later in the day.

-REUTERS