OPINION: Where we see eye-to-eye with Malema
CAPE TOWN - The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, addressed the National Press Club of South Africa last week on Friday, in Cape Town, and I attended.
Malema touched on various
topics, which Business Report has
also covered recently. Some of those were, whether or not, South Africa needs a State Bank, a Sovereign Wealth Fund or, a Minister of Public Enterprises.
In last week’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Ramaphosa stated that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni would elaborate on
the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund and a state bank, when he delivers his Budget Speech on February 26.
The sovereign wealth fund would be “a means to preserve and grow the national endowment of our nation”, Ramaphosa said.
According to President Ramaphosa, when addressing the state last Thursday, “a sovereign wealth fund is a state-owned investment vehicle.”
He did not provide more information about the scope of the fund or the bank, saying that Mboweni would provide further details.
This backs up the statement from Mboweni in late 2019 that plans for a sovereign wealth fund were in the pipeline.
Mboweni has also been on record as suggesting that the establishment of a state-owned bank is crucial to assisting South Africans who feel they had been discriminated against by established commercial banks.
I too have written how merging the Post Office, the Land Bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and some other state-owned assets, would allow for the perfect foundation of a South African State Bank.
That this can soon be a reality, therefore, appears to be possible.
Notwithstanding the initial disruptions at Sona last Thursday, there is no gainsaying that our democracy is showing some signs of political maturity.
This was demonstrated by all parties present at Sona, able to put differences and heckling aside after a short pause for tea and cake to then get on with the business of the day without further incident.
Putting South Africa first is after all, what our politicians are elected and paid to do.
And, so Sona confirmed what we all know, even to varying degrees of technical accuracy, that the nation is in a perilous state - fragile, agitated, belligerent and pretty much broke.
There are many pathways that have facilitated this degeneration, mostly, but not all, attributed to a decade of political unaccountability, corruption, decaying infrastructure and a consequential, ever-shrinking economy.
Ramaphosa’s leading of South Africa’s sixth administration is hoped by its citizenry to right the wrongs of the past, and steer the country back on the path to a safe, healthy and prosperous future.
Put rather poetically, this administration represents a phoenix. The 2020 Sona therefore, is the phoenix’s debut flight.
But there is a technical hitch.
The bird’s feathers are still tethered to the dead weight of state-owned entities (SOEs), unemployment, crime and the lingering smell of corruption that continues to pervade the corridors of power and dominate dinner table debate.
While Sona drew attention to many pertinent matters, some stood out more than others, one being the management of SOEs, with the leader of the red brigade, calling for Pravin Gordhan’s firing and continuing to seek the answer to whether or not the country actually needs a Minister of Public Enterprises.
This is particularly pertinent as there is an overwhelming need to curtail costs, and a spoken commitment by the ruling party to reduce the number of ministers on the people’s payroll - remember, members of parliament work for us we, as taxpayers, pay their salaries.
South Africa has more than 700 State Owned Enterprises, each fitting into a specific ministry.
With ministers for almost all departments such as energy, transport, agriculture, defence, telecommunications and others, why do we require SOEs to report to another Minister?
Fragmenting or dividing the chain of command and responsibility, opens these entities to confusion and even, abuse.
Who is responsible for what and when?
Do all these ministers report to the minister of public enterprises, currently Pravin Gordhan, or do they report to the President, Cyril Ramaphosa?
I also posed these questions to Malema on Friday to get his take on the subject.
His answer was emphatic: “There is no need for a minister of public enterprises. Transnet and Prasa can go to transport; Eskom and the Central Energy Fund to energy; Denel to defence (this is debatable); the Land Bank and the Development Bank to agriculture and so on.”
Malema also went on to say that: “When I spoke to (President) Cyril (Ramaphosa) some time back, I told him there is no need for deputy ministers. What do they do?
“If Ramaphosa is serious to save this country from the financial crisis, we as South African citizens are currently faced with, he should cut costs and fire all deputy ministers.”
I suspect, however, that the real answers to these questions will remain elusive for some time to come still, which is such a shame, as what we really need right now, is swift, decisive action, from the top down.
Ramaphosa needs to rip off the band aid patching the country together, unblock South Africa’s arteries and allow fresh thinking to heal the wounds of the past in order to stimulate new blood flow into the economy.
Adri Senekal de Wet is Executive Editor of Business Report.