#SONA2020: SA CEOs send own wish list to Ramaphosa

By Roxanne Henderson and Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – Business leaders have been ratcheting up the pressure on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce decisive measures to turn around the economy and fix struggling state-owned enterprises.

Ramaphosa has the opportunity to do just that when he delivers his state-of-the-nation speech in parliament on Thursday. The address, which begins at 7pm in Cape Town, has been billed by South Africa’s Business Day as the most important since Nelson Mandela’s in 1994 – the first after apartheid ended.

The chief executive officers of some of South Africa’s biggest companies want Ramaphosa to announce steps to help a nation stuck in its longest downward business cycle since World War II, with 29% of the population unemployed, and soaring violent crime leaving more than 50 people murdered every day.

Here’s what’s on CEOs’ wish list:

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub

  • The government needs to define its priorities and what role the public sector is going to take, and then outline clearly where it wants companies to step in and direct their attention.
  • Plans to release additional broadband spectrum must be speedily implemented.
  • Investment is needed in power, fibre networks and other infrastructure that will underpin growth and encourage the development of new industries.

Business Unity Acting CEO Cas Coovadia

  • Urgent pronouncements on far-reaching economic structural reforms, with the key aim of unleashing economic growth and attracting investments.
  • A clear statement that public expenditure will be tempered in the budget to be presented on February 26.
  • A clear position on a strategy to address the crisis facing state-owned companies. This must include decisions on which SOEs are of strategic importance, poor governance and management and a lack of qualified people, and the role of the private sector.

Sibanye Gold CEO Neal Froneman

  • Economic growth must be prioritised and steps need to be taken to rebuild business and investor confidence.
  • Bailouts for inefficient and mismanaged state companies must end.
  • The mining industry needs regulatory certainty and a more investor-friendly environment.

Investec Bank South Africa CEO Richard Wainwright

  • The government has little room to provide fiscal stimulus, and will possibly have to adopt an austerity budget.
  • Economy is reliant on private-sector activity picking up.
  • Structural reform and policy certainty are prerequisites for bolstering business confidence.

Rand Merchant Bank CEO James Formby

  • Concrete structural reforms are needed, such as speeding up visa access for tourists and workers with scarce skills.
  • The government must improve the management of its finances and show greater commitment to constraining the burgeoning fiscal deficit and bringing state debt under control.
  • The embattled state power utility has to be turned around and made financially sustainable, but the authorities should refrain from announcing solutions that don’t have broad-based support.
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