Columns 15.11.2017 05:35 am

Zuma’s fees commission report trick, heh-heh-heh

President Jacob Zuma addressing the media at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Services Prison during the 40th anniversary of the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, 12 September 2017, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

President Jacob Zuma addressing the media at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Services Prison during the 40th anniversary of the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, 12 September 2017, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

He knew that students would not like the Heher Commission report, which found that universal free higher education is unaffordable.

It’s no use celebrating every new disclosure about corruption as if these are breakthroughs that will stop not-my-president Jacob Zuma. That won’t happen soon.

Undeterred, super-rich Zuma and cronies continue ever-more audacious schemes to steal public money, while poor children die in pit latrines.

Devoid of conscience, Zuma feels no guilt. And none in his inner circle faces any charges. The latest topic for Zuma to exploit politically and financially is student fees.

He knew that students would not like the Heher Commission report, which found that universal free higher education is unaffordable (not fees-ible?).

Releasing the Heher report on Monday was a cunning move. It paves the way for a more radical, populist plan.

In promoting this alternative, Zuma subverts Treasury’s control of the purse strings. That’s something which previous finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan prevented him from doing.

Zuma bypassed Treasury systems by pushing an unaffordable “free” education plan concocted by Morris Masutha, an ex-boyfriend of one of his many daughters.

This undermines the professionally crafted, legally sound system through which budget proposals are costed and their feasibility assessed by experts.

That system was honed over many years by the likes of Gordhan, Nene and Trevor Manuel, whose sure-footedness inspired national and international confidence.

With dilettante fashionista and Gupta servant Malusi Gigaba now heading the finance ministry, Zuma has a freer hand.

However, Zuma’s antics were too much for Michael Sachs, outgoing deputy-director of budgeting in the Treasury.

According to Business Day, Sachs resigned “because the budget process – a carefully managed, transparent process informed by Treasury and presided over by the minister’s committee on the budget – is dead”.

Before the Masutha plan, Zuma has been steadily eroding Treasury’s power anyway, by appointing a “president’s fiscal committee”.

In addition, the department of monitoring and evaluation, under Minister Jeff Radebe in the presidency, further dilutes Treasury’s influence. Both bodies lack budget expertise but are willing to do Zuma’s bidding.

Sachs’ resignation highlights the danger Zuma poses to SA’s financial future. Some suggest it will trigger a revolt at Treasury. But an exodus leaves Zuma in control.

Every time a substantial custodian is squeezed out, the plunderers gain advantage. With people such as Sachs out of the way, Zuma has greater scope to punt the “free” education plan, which has a R40 billion price tag.

Bearing in mind the current R50 billion revenue shortfall, it is obvious that Masutha’s scheme cannot work. That won’t trouble Zuma, to whom affordability is meaningless.

Recklessly, he seeks to burnish his legacy as a champion of radical economic transformation, and use populist sentiment to bolster the electoral chances of his preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

If she wins next month’s ANC leadership contest, he stays on as SA president until 2019. And poor people will have to wait longer for safe, clean toilets.

Martin Williams.

Martin Williams.

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