Gordhan: Time to take responsibility for our own economy
- Greg Nicolson
- South Africa
- 14 Mar 2016 04:37 (South Africa)
Back from trips to London, Boston and New York where he was trying to boost investor confidence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Monday returned to questions about whether his deputy was offered a job by the Gupta family. Gordhan once again challenged those seen as waging a war for control of the country's financial institutions. By GREG NICOLSON.
Speaking with a panel of business and labour leaders at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Gordhan started Monday's press conference by saying he was excited so many people had come to hear about investor sentiment, the only issue he planned to speak on. Soon, however, he faced multiple questions on claims that the Gupta family and ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas the position of finance minister before Nhlanhla Nene was sacked last year.
“My silence tells it all,” said Gordhan on claims that the Guptas had offered Jonas the job, allegedly with President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane present.
“I have no personal knowledge of this so there's nothing I can tell you,” he clarified.
The minister said that being a private person he has never had dinner with the Gupta family. When asked whether he would approach Jonas for clarification on the alleged scandal, he said, “I'm sorry, that's my business.”
In a statement on Monday, the Treasury refuted a Sunday Times report that suggested its senior officials were the source of allegations that Duarte offered Jonas the job of finance minister. The Treasury criticised the newspaper for relying on “unnamed sources and faceless people to spread rumours and give credence to their stories” and challenged it to prove the claims. Gordhan said if a Treasury official “crossed the line” they would take action. The Treasury statement did not address the allegations that the Guptas or Duarte offered Jonas the job.
The finance minister also hit out at leaks coming from the Hawks who have asked the minister to answer questions on the SARS “rogue unit”.
“Why do you have to leak these things?” he asked after the Sunday Independent reported on a letter from Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza demanding he respond to questions on the “rogue unit” by Monday. The letter, the minister said, was from earlier in March and instead of leaking documents those investigating him should hold a press conference and put facts on the table.
“Once again the Hawks, and those who instruct them, have no regard for the economic and social welfare of millions,” said Gordhan in a stern statement on Sunday. Neither he nor his legal team had received a new letter from Ntlemeza, he said.
“I am, like all South Africans, not above the law,” Gordhan said, but the deadline for responding to the 27 questions from the Hawks was impossible to meet and he is still waiting for the legislative provision under which he was being questioned.
In what is seen as a political battle being fought for control of the county's financial institutions, Gordhan has said there is a group of people who aren't interested in stabilising the economy or the welfare of South Africans, but are “interested in disrupting institutions and destroying reputations”. On Sunday he suggested those leaking documents from the Hawks are using tactics of apartheid's Security Police.
Gordhan was in the US and UK last week with delegates from labour unions and business leaders to boost investor sentiment. They met with ratings agencies and 250 investors who collectively manage trillions of dollars in assets. While many asked about Nene's sacking, the key issues they raised concerned fiscal risks and the balance sheets of state-owned enterprises, credit downgrades, poor growth, business confidence, regulatory clarity and the political environment.
South Africa's GDP is expected to rise at less than 1 percent in 2016 and the country is battling with low commodity prices, a slowdown in China's economy, and the drought as well as high inflation, government debt and a large current account deficit. Since returning to the Treasury last December, Gordhan has committed to avoiding a sovereign ratings downgrade, which could lower the country's credit rating to junk status.
If South Africa's credit rating gets downgraded to sub-investment status, they'll try to get upgraded, said Gordhan bluntly. He explained though that an upgrade from junk status could take up to five years. “The key message we come back with is that the world is watching South Africa very carefully, the investor world,” said Gordhan. He added that the delegation was received positively and the strength of the country's financial institutions was appreciated, as was the continued commitment to fiscal discipline. But, he said, it's time for action.
“We need to be aware as South Africans that we need to provide very concrete evidence that we are not just talking. It's time for concrete action, demonstrable action,” said Gordhan.
Throughout Monday's press conference the minister emphasised that the government, business and labour need to commit to improving the economy and harness their different resources to confront the current challenges.
“We as South Africans, labour, government and business, have to take responsibility for our own economy,” he said. DM
Photo: South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan adjusts his glasses at a news conference during the annual IMF-World Bank meeting at the IMF headquarters building in Washington October 7, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.