EDITOR’S VIEW: Hardly a probation covered in glory for new man Gigaba
Gigaba's six months have proved more worrying than anything else
Malusi Gigaba's probation period as the country's finance minister ends today. October marks his sixth month at the helm and I think it's a fair enough period for a judgment to be made. During his term, the rand and equity markets haven't performed too badly. While it has weakened since the end of March, the rand has only marginally declined against the US dollar, falling just under a percent. Gigaba's supporters will be quick to point to this as his success and have claimed that he has managed to halt the dramatic fall in the rand we'd seen since the untidy ouster of Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015.
But the real reason for the more sedate rand has been the US dollar, which has had a rather rough patch over most of the year as the much heralded "Trump bump" wore off. Emerging markets have had a better run of it, and that includes the local bourse. The Brazilian real over the period of Gigaba's promotion has reacted in a similar manner to the rand, and both have underperformed the Turkish lira.
Over the past month, the dollar has staged a revival and should it continue, given that the US Federal Reserve looks set on a course of higher interest rates, the calm may be over as sentiment changes.
So a stable rand can't be attributed to the new man in charge. It's a performance which has allowed the country a bit of a reprieve through an interest rate cut in July, but it has been down to external factors.
But the minister's more important job was always that of protecting the sanctity of the institutions that fall under his sphere of control. On this card, he has failed.
On Friday, SAA may have received a bailout by the Treasury, but it's simply a matter of kicking the can down the road. Governance hasn't been dealt with and the elephant in the room, the chairmanship of Dudu Myeni, remains. An opportunity to remove her and start a very long road to improving sentiment around the airline was missed when her term officially expired. Instead, in playing what must be party politics, her term has been extended to some future date.
With regard to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), custodian of more than a trillion rands' worth of state employees' assets, one has to say that he hasn't covered himself in much glory. What we witnessed this past Tuesday was a minister trying to prove who is ultimately in charge of the corporation. It was a news conference that was supposed to show this to the nation, but instead his sabre-rattling was testimony to the bullying of a CEO.
Business Times and Sunday Times stand by last week's story, which showed that there's much discontent within the walls of the PIC.
The other institution that is in his charge, the Reserve Bank, may not have grabbed headlines in the same manner as the PIC has. But the bad politics is coming to bear there too.
Speaking in London on Friday, Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said politics was complicating efforts to set both monetary policy and keep inflation under control.
"Our job is already difficult ... what the politics does is that it just adds to the complexity," he told Bloomberg TV.
I won't be too surprised to see another press conference, at which the Reserve Bank, along with the minister, try to assure us that all is well and that its independence is sacrosanct.
But when one of the candidates for the ANC presidency calls for the ownership of the central bank to change so that it creates an enabling environment for the establishment of state and other banks, it's a clear threat to the incumbents, is it not?
Is Gigaba the man to protect the bank and PIC from this potential onslaught? Given that he is not on anyone's slate at the moment and that he is a career politician, I doubt it very much.
So, in summary, I'd say Gigaba's six months have proved more worrying than anything else.