Power stance: Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba says SA will pursue a nuclear build programme at a pace and scale that the government can afford. In October he had painted a bleak picture of the exorbitant cost of the nuclear build scheme. Picture: SUPPLIED
Power stance: Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba says SA will pursue a nuclear build programme at a pace and scale that the government can afford. In October he had painted a bleak picture of the exorbitant cost of the nuclear build scheme. Picture: SUPPLIED

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba appeared to backtrack on his nuclear stance on Wednesday, saying in Parliament that SA would pursue the nuclear build programme at a pace and scale the government could afford.

In his maiden medium-term budget policy statement in October, Gigaba suggested SA had neither planned for spending on nuclear nor could the country afford it. It is estimated the nuclear build programme could cost R1-trillion.

In the medium-term budget policy statement Gigaba painted a bleak picture of the state of SA’s economy, with the projected revenue shortfall for 2017-18 a staggering R50bn, due to slow growth and poor tax collection. The consolidated budget deficit would jump to 4.3% of GDP in the next fiscal year, against a target of 3.1%.

Energy Minister David Mahlobo too said during the economics cluster question-and-answer session in the National Assembly on Wednesday that nuclear remained part of SA’s energy mix.

"The fact of the matter is that there is no doublespeak. Minister Mahlobo has said we will proceed at the pace and scale which the country can afford. There is no contradiction," said Gigaba in response to questions from DA MP and finance spokesman David Maynier.

Maynier, who constantly referred to Mahlobo as "Mahlobovic" because of his alleged links with Russia, had suggested that the government was at war with itself as the ministers delivered contradicting messages with regard to the nuclear plan. Reports recently said that just before the latest Cabinet reshuffle, a high-level delegation acting for Russian President Vladimir Putin had met with President Jacob Zuma to allegedly instruct him to conclude the nuclear deal with Moscow.

Critics and opposition parties have suggested that Mahlobo’s recent appointment to the energy portfolio was a clear attempt by Zuma to push through the nuclear deal.

"It is quite inevitable that nuclear will remain part of the energy mix. The extent of affordability will depend on the strength of the growth of the economy, and growth of intensive [electricity] users, and strengthening of the Eskom balance sheet. We will not move in a reckless way," said Gigaba.

Mahlobo said: "All energy options are on the table and we will implement them … nuclear is not for discussion, and coal is not for discussion. It [the energy mix] is on the basis of the economic policy we have chosen."

The energy mix includes nuclear, hydro, solar, coal, wind and gas power.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za

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