Lesetja Kganyago. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Lesetja Kganyago. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

SA spends too much time debating populist issues such as the proposed nationalisation of the central bank, instead of focusing on steps to boost the economy, South African Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said on Monday. 

 “We have spent too much of the year indulging in populism instead of making pragmatic choices,” Kganyago said in in the foreword to the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy review in Pretoria. “A particular concern for me has been the amount of time we have squandered discussing Reserve Bank nationalisation.”

The ANC decided in December that it would pursue changes to the constitution to make land expropriation without compensation easier and that the Reserve Bank should be state-owned.  

In August, the EFF tabled a bill to change the ownership of the Reserve Bank. “No one can explain what SA [would] gain from this step, or why it would justify the potential costs” of nationalising the central bank, Kganyago said.

“Clearly this subject excites some passion, so we keep talking about it, but it is the wrong priority. If we are serious about SA’s economic performance, we need to be more focused in our agenda-setting.”

SA hasn’t expanded at more than 2% annually since 2013 and fell into a recession in the second quarter. Without the appropriate reforms, growth is likely to stay muted, according to the monetary policy review.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a stimulus plan to boost growth and pledged to attract $100bn to the economy in the next five years. Since announcing this in April, China, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Daimler’s Mercedes- Benz unit have pledged $35.5bn. At an investment summit last week, companies promised almost $20bn.

“If the amount can be delivered, it will actually have a massive impact,” Kganyago said at a forum after the release of the policy review. “Is this amount achievable? I do not know, but there is nothing wrong with being ambitious.”

While the large budget deficit could help boost domestic demand, tax increases announced in February may have the opposite effect, the Reserve Bank said.“Given this mix of stimulatory and contradictory elements, fiscal policy is perhaps best described as having one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator.”