Journalists were anticipating the usual cacophony of sirens, blue lights and large overpriced black German SUVs which normally accompany the arrival of a South African minister at an event. Instead, newly reappointed Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene arrived at the Federations of Unions of South Africa conference in Pretoria in a single vehicle of the Swedish variety. Those who cover South African ministers will know how strange an occurrence that is. By DAILY MAVERICK STAFF REPORTER.
Newly reappointed Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene on Monday made his first public appearance since being persuaded by President Cyril Ramaphosa to resume his duties at the Treasury, arriving at the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) conference in Pretoria without a blue light in sight.
Nene has the unenviable task of overseeing the recovery of South Africa’s deteriorating economy in a tough economic environment.
Taking to the podium, Nene said he felt like a man who had been kicked out by his wife, only to return home at a later point with his kids asking him where he’d been.
“So I told them that the long and short of it was that I’ve been on sabbatical. We are at a point where we need to look back and reflect on a number of things that have happened. We’ve seen the country going in the direction that some of us began to feel that we are not serving the interests of the generations that will come after us,” said Nene.
The minister went on to articulate how business and consumers had lost confidence in the ability of the economy in recent years. However, according to Nene, there is a renewed sense of optimism coming from the expectation that the new president and his team will tackle three issues linked to the economy. These were: finalising many outstanding policy reforms such as the Mining Charter; acting decisively against corruption in the public and private sectors, and swiftly resolving governance and operational failures at SoEs, in particular Eskom.
Once done with his speech, Nene offered to answer questions from the room of trade unionists. He was quizzed on a variety of issues ranging from youth unemployment to SARS’ tax collection shortfall and the status of the nuclear deal.
On SARS Nene said that tax morality needs to be restored but that this can only be done when taxpayers can see value for the money that they are paying to government.
“We’ve seen how tax morality has deteriorated. When that happens it is a sign of loss of confidence in the state when people begin to say, ‘Why must we pay taxes when our taxes are spent in the reckless manner we have seen in the past?’.”
The status of the nuclear deal was also raised by a delegate and Nene did not give a direct answer as to whether the deal would go ahead or not.
“Government has indicated that nuclear remains in the plans as per the energy mix. But as we speak the country was clear that we can only implement this programme on a pace and scale that we can afford,” said Nene.
He went on the state that South Africa currently has an electricity surplus and government is also looking towards programmes concerning renewable energy.
According to Nene the current government needed to clamp down hard on corruption in order to inspire confidence in the country’s people and the global market economy.
“You must have seen how some of the law enforcement agencies are actually beginning to find their muscle in order to do what they’re supposed to do which in the past we haven’t seen. We’re getting people charged, we are getting investigations and there are no holy cows when it comes to that.”
Speaking to journalists in a briefing after his speech, Nene joked that he always said that if someone had to call him back to government he would kill that person.
“I tried to fight,” Nene said, with regards to Ramaphosa calling him back to serve in government.
“I tried to resist but I could not because when national duty calls, everything else falls away.” DM
Photo: Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is seen at a Fedusa Leadership Conference in Pretoria during his first appearance as reappointed finance minister. (Photo by Daily Maverick)
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