Business Leadership South Africa CEO Bonang Mohale, right, says Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is trying to do the right thing. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Business Leadership South Africa CEO Bonang Mohale, right, says Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is trying to do the right thing. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

BUSINESS has demanded the appointment of an independent judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, a two-year moratorium on nuclear acquisitions and the appointment of a new board at Eskom.

These are among the five minimum conditions it expects the government to meet if it wants to rebuild its relationship with business, says Bonang Mohale, the outgoing deputy chairman and newly appointed CEO of Business Leadership South Africa. Mohale is also the outgoing chairman of Shell South Africa.

"We need to reset our relationship," he says. "We have laid down five conditions under which we will continue to work with government."

The government must show speedy commitment to "cleaning up" the governance of state-owned enterprises, particularly Eskom and SAA.

The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act must be finalised. "It has been kicked down the road for far too long," says Mohale.

Its fifth condition, the signing and gazetting of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Act, was met this week by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who had a crisis meeting with business leaders to discuss ways of halting further downgrades and getting South Africa out of recession.

The government had consistently refused to sign Fica, an international requirement intended to prevent money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

Mohale says the slide in South Africa's credit ratings will not be halted easily or any time soon, but these five conditions are minimum requirements for rebuilding any kind of trust with ratings agencies and investors.

He says business leaders made this clear to President Jacob Zuma in a meeting two months ago, and they expect feedback from him at their next meeting, scheduled for later this month.

Mohale repeats the mantra that "business is committed to negotiating with government", but says it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide if there is a government to negotiate with.

He says that none of the necessary conditions commonly associated with a functioning government are met by the present outfit.

In so far as government entails some cohesion of views, an agreed policy platform, some moderately disciplined implementation programme and some ability to bring disciplined government activity to bear on mutually agreed projects, there is no government, he says.

"I would add to this a lack of leadership, so decisions are just not being made or implemented, and state capture.

"For all these reasons there is no effective government at the moment. It is not there."

How does business negotiate with a government that is not there?

"With great difficulty. After our meeting with the president we will know whether negotiations are still worth pursuing.

"Our view as business is that when you go onto the field as a player, not as a spectator, you face the man that is in front of you. The man we have in front of us is this government, with all its imperfections."

He admits that business doesn't know who the man, or government, in front of them is.

"At the moment we are unsure."

Is it the president or the Guptas?

"That's the uncertainty we have. And the ratings agencies have simply given expression to that. Who is really running the country?"

Can the trust of ratings agencies and investors be restored in such an environment?

"That is what we want to work on," Mohale says. "We're in a recession now, that we got into wilfully. How do we get out of it?"

He says this won't be easy under present political circumstances.

"Something has to change."

He won't be drawn on whether political change is a necessary precondition for economic growth.

"As business we are not politicians. We are business people who concern ourselves with the economy, and how politics affects the economy."

But he agrees it is only through politics that the economic crisis can be addressed.

"The ratings agencies were clear that our political instability led to the downgrade. So politics needs to be fixed."

Getting to the bottom of state capture is a priority, he says. He believes the authenticity of the e-mails has been established, not least by Gigaba, who confirmed the authenticity of e-mails showing how he gave citizenship to the Guptas.

"The veracity of the e-mails is no longer in question. We now want an independent judicial commission of inquiry, and prosecutions where warranted.

 "Zuma will have to appoint an independent commission of inquiry, he's got no option."

He says business has made it clear to the ANC that it expects the party to deal with Zuma.

"We have gone to the ANC and said we didn't elect the president, we elected the ANC. The ANC gave us this president, so the ANC must now deal with this president. It's not our job as business to do that."

As for whether the ANC is listening to business, he cites as evidence the signing of Fica, the ejection of Brian Molefe from Eskom, the announcement that the Special Investigating Unit will investigate the e-mails, the appointment of a new National Treasury director-general "from the current, experienced pool", the firing of the SABC's Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the resignation of disgraced Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane.

He says that if Ngubane thinks that by resigning he has escaped having to appear before the parliamentary ad hoc committee investigation into Eskom, he is mistaken.

"He will have to be subpoenaed, he can't run away from that. People need to be held accountable."

Gigaba has said that he must not be judged by what is being written about him but by his actions.

"Our response to him is: 'We are prepared to do that. We are watching your actions, and we'll be watching for the independent judicial commission of inquiry.'"

Mohale was sharply critical of Gigaba's appointment as finance minister, given his record as minister of public enterprises, where he appointed Gupta allies to the boards of state-owned enterprises. Mohale said he believed Gigaba's mission would be to aid and abet the capture of the Treasury by the Guptas.

But he says it seems Gigaba is "doing his damnedest to redeem himself. It's palpable."

There has been speculation that Gigaba is acting with an eye on his political career post-Zuma rather than out of a newfound sense of integrity or eagerness to do what is best for the country.

"I can only comment on what I've seen. He is taking his job as finance minister very seriously. I have met him three times, and three times I have seen a man determined to be a good finance minister eventually."

He's been making all the right noises, says Mohale.

"Now we are watching him. We will judge him by his actions."

He says unless the conditions laid down by business are met, "it cannot be business as usual".

Does this mean no more roadshows with the government to ratings agencies and investors?

"The difficulty is, how do you boycott promoting your country as a good investment destination? How do you boycott investment in young people, in the development of small and medium enterprises where jobs are created?

"So we're between a rock and a hard place."

The roadshows were a "Team South Africa" initiative comprising business, labour, civil society and the government. Is there still a Team South Africa?

"Government messed up that relationship. Now it is up to government to fix it."

The government's characterisation of business as "white monopoly capital" is doing just the opposite, he says.

"You don't speak that way about your partners."

Even if Team South Africa do do further roadshows, Mohale says he believes they will have little chance of success against a backdrop of rising political instability.

"One of our biggest fears is that instability continues and gets worse up to the elections in 2019," he says.

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