Sikonathi Mantshantsha Deputy editor: Financial Mail

First published in August 2017.

Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Last week, finance minister Malusi Gigaba finally held his first meeting with the CEO Initiative, the grouping of prominent employers and taxpayers who have been trying to hold government’s hand and show it the way towards order and a semblance of sanity in the marketplace that is SA. The initial hope was that the initiative would help keep us from junk status.

The meeting was cordial — the kind of useless talkshop that politicians are fond of. Afterwards — with television cameras promising a coveted audience — Gigaba waxed lyrical about what he’d told the 80-plus CEOs, reflecting very little of what they had told him.

He told the business leaders that he was working to address the financial and governance challenges of state-owned companies such as SA Airways (SAA).

Gigaba is like the guy who brings an embarrassing drunk to a party, then desperately pretends he doesn’t know him when he vomits. For it was Gigaba who introduced all the players who are today accused of illegally capturing these companies. But the CEOs missed an opportunity to hold him to account on that.

Where Gigaba goes, the Guptas follow. This has played itself out at Eskom, SAA and Denel. These entities became the Guptas’ playground soon after Gigaba became public enterprises minister in 2009.

Gigaba’s spokesman, Mayihlome Tshwete, put up a spirited defence of the minister, saying his boss only ever acted in the best interests of SA. "The minister has always acted against people he appointed whenever he found out about their misconduct," he said.

The CEOs, led by the respectable and normally outspoken Jabu Mabuza, listened to the lecture sheepishly. Asked whether they had required Gigaba to account for his role in introducing the Guptas to our strategic assets, Mabuza said: "No, we did not ask him."

That was where the initiative made itself irrelevant — again. If it cannot speak truth to power, and demonstrate its resolve for good governance and to be taken seriously as an equal partner in promoting SA as an investment destination, it must simply close shop.

The seeds of instability

Gigaba went on, trying to make it sound like an achievement that he’d appointed the umpteenth SAA CEO. Conveniently, he forgot to mention what had happened to SAA’s management and its boards while he was the minister in charge. That’s when the seeds of instability were sown.

The minister said he has so far only put proposals to cabinet regarding SAA. As these have "not yet been finalised", he cautioned against "any hysteria created by our considering of various options".

"At the present moment what is a fact is that a R10bn recapitalisation is required for SAA, but the model of that recapitalisation is not yet finalised," he told his audience.

In other words: "I, in my ministerial wisdom, have asked my equally clueless colleagues to allow me to sell the family jewels so we can throw more of your hard-earned taxes into that big, flying hole that is SAA. And you must just shut up and not bother me about it."

When it was his turn to speak, Mabuza said: "We reiterate our view that while we believe that bad faith was shown by the president, we said it was up to the minister to demonstrate actions [that would be] in the best interests of the economy and that would rebuild business confidence. We acknowledge that the minister has taken actions that do demonstrate this."

Mabuza again pledged "closer work ... to pull the economy out of recession and back onto a growth path with investment-grade ratings".

Which is what he’s already said ad nauseam, even as Jacob Zuma has shown the world what he thinks of the CEO Initiative’s efforts to save SA’s economy.

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