Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Friday that the Public Protector doesn’t have the power to order a change in the Constitution. Speaking ahead of the ANC’s policy conference, he said the economy needed a boost and it needed it now. By GREG NICOLSON.
Speaking before the opening of the ANC’s policy conference in Johannesburg, Gigaba said Treasury is engaging with the Public Protector to understand her recommendation that Parliament change the Constitution to broaden the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).
“My view is that the Public Protector does not have the power to instruct Parliament to amend the Constitution,” said the finance minister, speaking at one of the Progressive Business Forum events due to be held each morning at the policy conference.
Gigaba said the recommendation should have been directed to his office, which would then be able to decide whether to push to expand SARB’s mandate. He said investors should not panic about the independence of the Reserve Bank, but there should be space for a debate.
“No one should fear a debate, however. Meanwhile we should all insist on the independence of the South African Reserve Bank to set policy within the framework defined by the Constitution and the law.”
In her report on the lifeboat the Reserve Bank gave to Absa and its predecessor Bankorp in the dying days of apartheid, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane told Parliament the Reserve Bank’s mandate must be expanded to include sustainable economic growth and the socio-economic well-being of citizens. Currently, its primary focus is on protecting the value of the currency.
Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago has filed court papers to take the report on review. He said Mkhwebane does not have the power to order a change in the Constitution and did not explain how she came to her findings. Parliament will also take the report on review. The Public Protector recommended the Special Investigations Unit recover R1.1-billion from Absa, which the consumer bank is also challenging.
The ANC’s fifth national policy conference kicked off on Friday morning and one of the key issues under discussion will be the state and direction of the economy. Gigaba focused on the economy’s need for growth and transformation and suggested the controversial new Mining Charter could help transform the industry.
He said the performance of the economy is far below the 5% needed annually according to the National Development Plan. “This level of growth is clearly insufficient. We are underperforming and barely scratching the surface of our economic potential,” he said.
“Unless we take drastic measures now and harness all of our resources we will not escape the low-growth trap.” He suggested that if the economy does not improve soon, the country may have to seek funds from outside institutions it has in the past resisted.
“This government was never meant to become the bastion of the status quo,” said the minister. He said government would in a few days time release a plan to enhance growth. Debates around “radical economic transformation” will be a focal point at the policy conference, but Gigaba said such economic terms are used as rhetoric while it’s the policies that matter most.
“There are processes under way to develop a public procurement policy,” he said, sympathising with claims the state’s procurement spending could be harnessed to further develop transformation. “It would seem that in the long term what we need to do is change the public procurement process itself.”
Gigaba said the R100-billion fund set to help develop black businesses could be a “game changer”. Black auditing firms are “low-hanging” fruit, he added, calling for state-owned entities to take radical decisions and direct at least 60% of audit budgets to black-owned auditing firms. Gigaba said sectors that could help boost growth are manufacturing, tourism and regional trade.
The ANC’s policy conference sits until 5 July and the party will provide updates on its discussions throughout the week. DM
Photo: Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba addresses a breakfast hosted by the Progressive Business Forum at the ANC policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre, 30 June 2017. Photo: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE
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