EDITORIAL: Malusi Gigaba: A bad situation made worse
Ramaphosa’s decision to keep Malusi Gigaba in the cabinet came back to bite him
This newspaper is not the only one to have questioned the logic of Cyril Ramaphosa keeping Malusi Gigaba in his cabinet when he became president. Nothing that’s happened since then has convinced us that our judgment was wrong.
When one traces some of the most unsavoury and economically damaging follies of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, it’s hard to think of a more compromised minister, at least one who still holds an office of state.
Where should one start? Those with longer memories will remember that Gigaba was the beneficiary when Zuma replaced public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan in 2010.
Facilitating state capture and the looting that ensued may or may not have been the intention from the start, but the trail of damage is being exposed by the Zondo commission of inquiry.
It’s unlikely that we’ve heard the last of the rot that brought to their knees once solid companies such as Eskom and Denel, both state-owned enterprises that now require government guarantees to continue operating.
Gigaba also emerged as a major player in one of the most notorious episodes of the Zuma era. The minister, whose association with the Gupta brothers is hardly a state secret, was again the beneficiary when Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, allegedly because he would not do his bidding on various things from pumping more cash into SAA to approving a costly and unnecessary nuclear power programme.
When he got to the National Treasury, he wasn’t exactly subtle about why he had been catapulted to that office, using one of his first public utterances to undermine a key institution run by some of the brightest people in the country.
Gigaba also emerged as a major player in one of the most notorious episodes of the Zuma era
For too long, he said, there had been a "narrative or perception" that the Treasury belonged to "orthodox" economists and other powerful interests, implying he was there to represent "a people’s government" — an insult to Trevor Manuel, Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene, who had come before him and who had a grasp of economics.
Luckily his time there was short and he will most be remembered for blowing more than R800,000 of state money on travel expenses for his wife, while at the same time he was raising taxes for everyone else.
So when Ramaphosa became president, promising a new dawn, there didn’t seem to be a minister more deserving of getting the sack.
Instead, perhaps with ANC internal politics in mind, he was returned to the department of home affairs, where he had earlier done untold damage to the tourism industry — which employs more people than mining and utilities put together — through some illogical regulations, such as the one requiring parents travelling with minors to carry unabridged birth certificates.
When Ramaphosa announced his stimulus package last week and said it would contain measures to liberalise visa restrictions and help a sector that the World Travel and Tourism Council said accounted for about 9% of GDP in 2017, hopes were raised that logic and reason would finally prevail.
Instead, Ramaphosa’s decision to keep Gigaba in the cabinet came back to bite him. His statement that from now on, instead of requiring all foreign minors to carry documentation proving parental consent, his department would merely "strongly recommend" such a step took a bad situation and made it worse. Officials "will only insist on documentation by exception — in high-risk situations — rather than for all travellers".
Now there is a ridiculous situation where travellers will potentially be subject to the whims of whichever official they happen to encounter at the port of entry. It doesn’t take a genius to see the pitfalls, not least the potential for corruption.
What’s not clear is whether what we are seeing is more incompetence from Gigaba, or a deliberate attempt to undermine Ramaphosa’s agenda.