Jabu Mabuza. Picture: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE
Jabu Mabuza. Picture: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE

The CEO Initiative extended an olive branch to government on Friday and co-chaired its first working session with Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to boost business confidence.

Despite the trust deficit between government and business created by the cabinet reshuffle, CEO Initiative chairperson Jabu Mabuza said the meeting was a "significant event" at a media briefing at Treasury.

"In the aftermath of the cabinet reshuffle and the impact on our relationship, we have been urged by all CEOs that this is our country and economy and we cannot boycott efforts to grow the economy."

It’s a change of attitude for the business organisation, who previously snubbed talks with the minister before the Investment Road Show in April, explaining that it could not continue with "business as usual" in the wake of the cabinet reshuffle and subsequent credit rating downgrades and would need a "refreshed mandate".

While the initiative, made up of about 100 CEOs, lauded Gigaba for hiring a credible head of Treasury, the removal of the chief financial officer at Eskom and the issues at Denel, addressing anti-business rhetoric and not embarking on the nuclear programme, Mabuza said the biggest issue for the Initiative remains State Capture. He called on President Jacob Zuma to urgently establish a commission of inquiry into state capture.

"The president can help all of us by immediately appointing this commission of inquiry to put this issue of state capture to rest."

Mabuza also expressed support for Gigaba’s 14-point action plan released in July for being comprehensive and realistic. He added, however, that some aspects of the plan relied on other departments and minister.

"We will continue to ask the president to get the other colleagues in the economic cluster to do the things to build confidence so people spend and invest."

Gigaba explained that a broader meeting with the CEO Initiative would be convened by the president in due course and would provide more detail on the 14-point plan.

Among some of the issues addressed on Friday were the economy, programmes to support youth employment, the SME Fund and state owned entities (SOEs).

"We have been having regular discussions with business since April and even prior to that about the state of the South African economy and the various initiatives we need to drive employment up and re-ignite confidence in the South African economy," explained Gigaba.

He added that business, government and civil society were working together on an ongoing basis to engage rating agencies.

Government and business are pushing forward the youth employment scheme with the aim of taking up 1-million young people in the next three years through internship programmes. Business and government are also looking at revitalising manufacturing in the Vaal Triangle.

Gigaba said: "This is so we can ensure that we can lift the economy above the zero something percent level."

In response to businesses concerns over "the governance and balance sheet challenges" of SOEs, Gigaba explained that it was important for the government to continue paying attention to governance for them to become financially sustainable and ignite confidence among investors.

Government was set to look at proposals regarding the management of government guarantees which would include a provision that guarantees support capital expansion rather than be provided for operational expenditure, said Gigaba.

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