Recently sacked deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas told an AHI Indaba in Centurion that he was enraged about the events that led to himself and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan being fired, but he kept on fighting for his country.
“All I did was for my country,” he said.
Jonas told the business grouping that National Treasury was one of few departments whose role was enshrined in the Constitution, which is a very powerful mandate. The legitimacy to play that role – including to ensure departments comply with procurement procedures and don’t overspend – is however dependent on support from the political authority, he said.
He said that without political support Treasury was vulnerable and the turnover of Treasury leadership in the past few months showed that there was a challenge in this regard.
The country saw Gordhan removed as finance minister in May 2014 and Nhlanhla Nene unexpectedly replaced by Des van Rooyen in December 2015. Due to market and other pressure, President Jacob Zuma removed Van Rooyen and called on Gordhan to take the helm, only to remove Gordhan last week after months of tension between himself and Gordhan.
Watch video of Jonas speaking below
Jonas had earlier openly stated that the Gupta family, who are close to Zuma and are said to have undue influence in state affairs, offered him Gordhan’s job before Van Rooyen replaced Gordhan. He alleged they offered him a large bribe, which he turned down. The family has denied this.
Jonas on Wednesday said that if one connects the dots, the public narrative is largely about corruption. He said while corruption was big, the narrative should go further and address the weakening of key institutions, which is a prerequisite for corruption.
South Africa is at a crossroads with high unemployment, corruption and inequality and the country needs a national dialogue about the way forward, he said. “We need a national dialogue to determine which compromises we must make,” he said.
“Radical economic transformation should broaden economic participation – not build a new elite,” he said. “The danger with the current narrative is that all the focus is on asset grab.”
He warned against replacing a white elite with a black elite.
He added that the debate should also focus on how to ensure young people had the necessary skills and the enabling of entrepreneurs.
Jonas emphasised the need to build and protect institutions and said “many of our institutions have been forsaken or deliberately weakened for political expediency, and state transformation has become so politicised that we would be forgiven for thinking that economics is all about political power.
He said he believed National Treasury still had the capacity it needed, but he was worried, “like very South African should be worried”.
Such institutions should be protected and strengthened to be sustainable over the long term, independent of who was in political power, he said.
“Yes, we know a great deal about how the exercise of political power can shape economic prospects, contribute to the accumulation of wealth, and impose barriers on entrepreneurship and development. But – let us not fall into the trap of thinking about economics as like political power, because then transformation will be seen as a zero-sum game where only those who are in charge, and those they in turn favour, will prosper.”
He said the country should guard against the politicisation of the economy, “where empowerment becomes about replacing one group of beneficiaries or business partners with another – rather it should be about radically increasing levels of economic participation among the majority of citizens who still find themselves excluded from the economic mainstream and diversifying and deepening the economy through building collaborative economic networks and partnerships and investing in new sources of growth”.
He said this would require exceptional leadership in government and among all economic stakeholders.
“We have to move beyond narrow interests and maximum positions and tackle the very real trust deficits that impede us moving South Africa forward.”
Asked for his reaction to the meeting of the ANC national working committee about the Cabinet reshuffle, Jonas said he was not part of the committee and did not know what happened in the meeting.
Jonas added that ultimately the future of South Africa was in the hands of South Africans.
“This misconception that you would have a committee that sits in one boardroom or the other and resolves your problems is not going to hold water very soon.
“Remember that there are vested interests in some of these things. You cannot run away from it. The question is, where are they located?”
He said ultimately it was about having a national programme with a clear national agenda and strengthening national leadership committed to that programme.
He said if you could not do that, history would judge you harshly.
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