Finance minister in fresh attack: How long can Pravin Gordhan survive onslaught?

This year promises to be another tough one for South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who has been under attack for a prolonged period by political opponents. Gordhan, who wields enormous power in the banking sector and holds the keys to the country’s national treasury, has stood in the way of senior politicians and business players who are politically connected. It’s no secret that the Gupta family, associated with President Jacob Zuma, and others would like him pushed aside. Details of political pressure applied to commercial banks and Gordhan emerged in court late last year. A force for good in a political party that has characterised its rule of the country by corruption, nepotism and financial mismanagement and irregularity, Gordhan has found fans across the country’s political divide. Recently, he accepted an award for working in the interests of business – a step which some of his detractors found unpalatable. Fin24’s Matthew le Cordeur outlines, below, the latest salvo fired at Gordhan. 2017 is already showing the signs of being another challenging year for the senior politician who cuts a lonely figure in government in the fight against state capture. While all the drama is inevitably likely to take its toll on Gordhan’s stress levels, the onslaught against Gordhan is also bad for business and investor sentiment. – Jackie Cameron

By Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – The Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) on Sunday called on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to stop his attacks on SA Revenue Service (Sars) Commissioner Tom Moyane.

The PPF is headed by Mzwanele (Jimmy) Manyi, who is a strong ally of President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family.

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister, speaks during a news conference ahead of his mid-term budget speech in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The PPF statement was in response to a parliamentary reply by Gordhan last week, in which he criticised Sars executive and PPF head of media and communications Luther Lebelo over his comments regarding rating agencies.

“Mr Lebelo, as a senior and influential manager in Sars, should not be commenting on a sensitive and serious matter such as ratings in the public domain,” Gordhan said.

Lebelo’s comments were contained in a letter to Business Day on 28 November 2016, in which he said “rating agencies … are nothing but organised economic gangs”.

“Our former oppressors, whose oppression has taken on a subtle and systematic manner, are now using these ‘gangs’ to whip us into line,” he wrote.

The letter came out a few days before S&P’s ratings decision, which explains Gordhan’s unhappiness over its content. S&P decided on 2 December to keep SA’s ratings unchanged.

“Surely, he (Lebelo) cannot be allowed to attack the very government that pays his salary on a matter that is of importance to all South African’s – except those who pursue an ignominious agenda against the national interest – with impunity?”

Gordhan said that Lebelo displays a “complete lack of understanding of the role of borrowing money both locally and from foreign lenders in helping to finance our social programmes for the poor”.

In response, the PPF said Gordhan should respect the right of freedom of speech and right of freedom of association.

Gordhan “should focus on coordinating macroeconomic policy and promoting the national policy framework not trying to sanction what Sars employees must say in their personal capacity”, it said.

“PPF’s view is that Minister Gordhan in his pandering antics to DA and white monopoly capital is interfering with the operation of Sars by indirectly instructing the management of Sars to take action against Mr Lebelo,” the PPF said.

The “PPF strongly calls on Minister Pravin to stop with immediate effect his continuous attack on Commissioner Moyane and as well as his urge to intervene in the operational activities of Sars as such conduct is in direct violation of the Sars Act as amended in 2002. If anything, the Minister must focus on the ailing economy which is his chief mandate.”

Gordhan criticised Moyane in a written Parliamentary reply on Thursday, saying that he “cannot place great reliance on the information” he receives from the tax collector.

Gordhan raised “serious concerns about the stewardship of a vital fiscal institution”.

The PPF statement links to analysis by Fin24 labour columnist Terry Bell, who believes Zuma will try label Gordhan as a crony of white capitalism as his reason to unseat him in his next – if it happens – cabinet shuffle.

Bell believes Gordhan made a “tactical blunder” when he accepted the Business Leader of the Year award from the country’s top 100 companies, the first time a politician has been so honoured.

“By accepting the award, Gordhan provided the opportunity for Zuma to imply that Gordhan was a ‘stooge’ manipulated by nefarious capitalist interests.”

Jimmy Manyi

On Sunday, Zuma “pledged to ensure the country’s black majority secures a bigger stake in the economy and do more to create jobs”, Bloomberg reported.

“Radical economic transformation remains at the core of our economic strategy,” Zuma said in his ANC 105th birthday address in Soweto. “More decisive steps must and will be taken to promote greater economic inclusion and to advance ownership and control and real leadership of the economy by black people.”

In addition, Fin24 reported on Friday comments by Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees, who said Gordhan and Moyane’s poor relationship could be used as further need to release Gordhan of his duties.

“Gordhan’s removal might be the end goal here,” he told Fin24.

“If Gordhan is not an effective minister of finance – as he does not get cooperation from Sars and others – then how can he actually do the job?

“One might have the possibility where the president says he can’t do the job,” he said. “That would not be a good signal for the economy.” – Fin24


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