POLITICS

How Malusi Gigaba Wants To Do It His Way At Treasury

There's a growing chasm between the finance minister and his team -- meanwhile, the economy is in dire straits.

07/09/2017 06:09 SAST | Updated 07/09/2017 06:09 SAST
Getty Images
A growing chasm is emerging between the finance minister and Treasury staff.

ANALYSIS

On Tuesday morning Schalk Human, the deposed acting chief procurement officer at National Treasury, told Talk Radio 702's Bruce Whitfield that he wouldn't categorise the relationship between the ministry and Treasury's bureaucracy as being "in tatters".

Tellingly though, Human said: "Obviously, we have some differences of what one does to kickstart this economy, and we are finding solutions, common solutions ... solutions that will be great for South Africa."

His revealing comment -- and Whitfield's question -- comes after Carol Paton in Business Day reported last week that the relationship between the bureaucracy and the ministry "is in tatters" and that the trust between the minister and senior officials "has evaporated".

Staff at Treasury caught in the crossfire
Treasury stands in the middle of the crosswinds between economy and politics. It needs to be able to take advantage of the trade winds generated by a recovering world economy while navigating the poisonous environment of local politics.

The trust between the minister and senior officials 'has evaporated'.

That it has historically been able to do, resisting assaults after the introduction of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic programme in the 1990s by Trevor Manuel and deflecting snipes when it started to cut on government spending under Gordhan.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA via Getty Images
Former South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan (C) and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas were the first to go.

But President Jacob Zuma's decision to axe Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas in March has led to a great deal of anxiety among staff and the fallout continues to be felt. When Gigaba initially marched into Treasury with 28 staff and advisors in tow, according to Business Day, HuffPost reported how staff were worried he would politicise their jobs. Inevitably, Director-General Lungisa Fuzile resigned and last week three more highly respected staff linked to Gordhan packed their desks, although Gigaba's spokesperson insisted this was a decision of the director-general.

Gigaba's end goal
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is an ambitious politician whose eyes seem to be firmly fixed on the ultimate prize of the presidency. He has over the years succeeded in keeping his nose largely clean, effortlessly transferring his loyalty from Thabo Mbeki to Zuma and avoiding putting his head above the political parapet.

But he has always been close to the rent-seeking action, as tracked by the "Betrayal of the Promise" report into the shadow state of state capture. According to the report, Gigaba became a key player in the reconfiguration of the boards of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that became so amenable to the Guptas' interests and their sycophants when he served as minister of public enterprises.

Everything he does at Treasury, some insiders believe, is done with an eventual presidential bid in mind. It is believed this could be the motive behind the recent spate of leaks from the once impregnable Treasury, which has sought to portray the institution negatively. Some are convinced the leaks emanate directly from the ministry, where a ministerial adviser has been known to openly declare: "I am looking for corruption."

Everything he does at Treasury, some insiders believe, is done with an eventual presidential bid in mind.

The stick that is being used to beat Treasury with is the 12-year old IFMS project to amalgamate and integrate financial management systems across government. It has cost millions of rands, but is yet to come to fruition. While a joint project management team has been trying to implement a solution, the creaking, old system needed to be maintained, which meant more money spent on outdated technology. But Treasury officials argue the amount spent on such a vast project isn't out of the ordinary when designing architecture of this nature. However, the minister has been reluctant to defend his new department, telling Parliament he will ensure accountability for any wrongdoing.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Lungisa Fuzile, former Treasury director-general, also felt he couldn't stay under Malusi Gigaba.

Gigaba -– a snappy dresser with a penchant for three-piece suits –- wants to be seen to be "Mr Clean", a future presidential candidate untainted by scandal, state capture or corruption. And what better way to find something dirty in a department that used to be headed by his benefactor's biggest political foe? But internal auditors have allegedly been unable to find any instances of fraud or corruption and an unreleased report by an audit firm is believed to clear Treasury of gross irregularities, unlike the tale being told on ANN7, the Gupta-Manyi television news channel of choice.

Gigaba's Treasury insiders
There seems to be a jostling for position at Treasury, with three advisers emerging as the gatekeepers to the minister. No memorandum reaches Gigaba's desk without first going through Saki Mofokeng, the chief of staff, Kholeka Gcaleka, a legal adviser, or Thamsanqa Msomi, who was revealed by leaked emails to have helped the Guptas with various issues while he was at home affairs with Gigaba. This is in contrast with previous ministers, who gave regular access to their senior staff.

The minister has been reluctant to defend his new department, telling Parliament he will ensure accountability for any wrongdoing.

Although he is regarded as distant from senior staff and an economic novice by many in the Treasury's ecosystem, he is also said by insiders to "learn quickly" when he puts his mind to it and is a "hard worker" that ends off his days by signing whatever documents need to be signed and reading whatever urgent memoranda have been sent to him. But he isn't keen to call up experienced Treasury hands to help plot a way out of the dead end the country's economy finds itself in.

"Minister Gigaba has asked tough questions of management, he's asking: 'What must be done to pull the economy back from the cliff and generate the kind of growth we require?' We are working very hard as the Treasury ... with the ministry ... to find answers to that question," Human told Whitfield.

But he isn't keen to call up experienced Treasury hands to help plot a way out of the dead-end the country's economy finds itself in.

Our economy is in dire straits: we could be headed for a reported R50 billion tax shortfall 2018, captured SOEs are weighing down our sovereign credit rating and policy seems straitjacketed. And there is a disconnect between the minister who wants to be king and the bureaucrats who want to do their job.