Pick n Pay’s chairman, Gareth Ackerman, launched a robust defence of South African business on Wednesday and accused politicians of “creating even further uncertainty at a time when our economy is under considerable strain”.
Ackerman used his opening remarks at the company’s annual results presentation to hit back at politicians, saying: “Despite an anti-business rhetoric, companies like Pick n Pay are doing everything we can to support consumers and sustain South Africa.”
The son of Pick n Pay’s founder, Raymond Ackerman, noted the company’s “considerable” contribution to the fiscus.
“We have invested over R5 billion in new and refurbished stores over the past four years. We have created over 10,000 new jobs. This last year alone, we have paid R470 million in company tax, collected R770 million in VAT and paid R810 million in employee-related taxes.”
He pointed to the recent sovereign ratings downgrades by international agencies S&P Global and Fitch, and raised concerns about the potential impact on inflation.
Both ratings agencies laid the blame for the downgrades squarely at the feet of President Jacob Zuma, pointing to his late-night cabinet reshuffle at the end of March.
On April 3 S&P Global had said it was their opinion that “the executive changes initiated by President Zuma have put at risk fiscal and growth outcomes”.
On April 7 Fitch added that “the cabinet reshuffle, which involved the replacement of the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, and the deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, is likely to result in a change in the direction of economic policy”.
Ackerman said any impact on inflation “with any interest rate increase would directly affect consumers already struggling to balance household budgets with little if any room to manoeuvre”.
As well as chairing Pick n Pay, Ackerman serves as co-chair of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, whose members contribute about R500 billion annually to GDP, or more than 18 percent of the total. The sector employs more than 2.9 million people, or about 23 percent of the total in South Africa.
He said it was important in difficult times for business as a whole to “take responsibility by setting out what it believes is in the interests of the South African economy”.
This should not be done in the pursuit of narrow advantage for companies, Ackerman added, “but in the interests of achieving sustainable growth from which all will benefit, by delivering more investment and more jobs, greater stability in prices, higher spending on health, education and other priorities”.
“As the chairman of a company which has always welcomed every South African and which has always fought for every person in society, nothing is more abhorrent than the claim that businesses like ours represent only a narrow interest in society,” he said.
Urging business to redouble efforts in partnership with all other stakeholders, Ackerman said the retail sector was ready and willing to partner with government to drive economic growth. But, he added, this could be achieved only in “an environment of mutual trust, respect and transparency”.