Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Deputy president David Mabuza took a dig at finance minister Tito Mboweni on Tuesday, saying he does not take the minister’s personal comments on privatisation seriously.  

“Whatever the minister said relating to privatisation it is the opinion of the minister, not that of the government. When you are in [Mboweni’s] position you desist from speaking as an individual. You work as part of a collective and you just don’t stand up and say what you want to say,” Mabuza said during a question and answer session in parliament.

DA MP Natasha Mazzone had asked the deputy president about Mboweni’s comments that some state-owned entities (SOEs) should be sold off, and whether he supports the finance minister’s call for full or partial privatisation.

Mboweni has, on various platforms, indicated his support for total or partial privatisation of some of the country’s struggling SOEs, including SAA. While Mboweni made it clear in his budget speech in February that there will be no privatisation of Eskom, he said the embattled power utility’s reconfigured transmission company will seek an equity partner.

Mboweni said SOEs pose a “very serious risk” to the fiscus.

“Funding requests for SAA, SABC, Denel, Eskom and other financially challenged SOEs have increased, with several requesting state support just to continue operating. Isn’t it about time the country asks the question: ‘Do we still need these enterprises?’” Mboweni asked at the time.

Mabuza said: “I don’t really take the finance minister seriously when he makes comments on privatisation. These are his own comments because he is saying ‘in my view’. We will take the minister seriously when he is articulating government positions, but when he is talking about his views, when he is tweeting, that is his own view. I will not entertain a tweet by the minister … it’s not a government position.” 

Opposition MPs

His comments shocked some opposition MPs with the IFP’s Narend Singh remarking that this was the first time a member of the executive did not agree with “his own finance minister”. “I think something needs to be done within that cabinet,” said Singh.

Responding to another question on the Eskom crisis, Mabuza reiterated his controversial view that the power utility is struggling in part because of a growing population.

“One of the problems is that the population has grown and there is an extension of supply, that added to the burden for Eskom,” he said. “The current state of affairs with regards to electricity supply is [in part] because of the growth of our population and extension of supply to all South Africans. But that does not warrant us to run away from root causes. We have acknowledged that there was governance failure, fraud and corruption at Eskom,” said Mabuza.

Mabuza chairs the special cabinet committee appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to tackle the Eskom crisis. Ramaphosa announced in February that the utility will be split into three units: generation, transmission and distribution.

The power utility, which has struggled with maintenance issues and design flaws at its poorly constructed power stations, Medupi and Kusile, recently resorted to load-shedding as it cannot meet demand.

With a debt load of more than R400bn it cannot service from revenue, Eskom is regarded as a major risk to SA’s finances. In the budget, Mboweni revealed that a provision was made for financial support of R69bn to the cash-strapped utility over three years. Treasury officials said support will total about R150bn over the next 10 years as part of plans to rescue it.

Mazzone was unequivocal about her stance on Eskom, and said: “It is clear that the ANC is divided about the future of SOEs and thus the future of SA’s economic outlook. It is clear that the ANC does not know how to pull the country out of the Eskom crisis due to crippling infighting. This leaves the country in a precarious position of having to pay — literally out of their pockets — for the ANC’s corruption and maladministration of our SOEs. It is clear that the dysfunction in the ANC will continue to be a threat to fixing Eskom and to the economy.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za