Vavi: Business or government, choose one

Public servants cannot have private business interests, the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) 10th national congress in Midrand heard on Wednesday.

“We continue to insist that public representatives must choose between being public representatives and live within their salaries, or must choose business. You can’t be both,” general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in his political report.

“A public representative cannot be a business person at the same time,” he said.

In the ensuing debate, the Cosatu-affiliated South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) called for corruption to be “declared a crime against humanity”.

Citing as an example the North West, where many public servants have recently been suspended, Samwu said corruption perpetuated poverty, irrespective of whether it took place in the public or private sector.

It was therefore necessary to deal harshly with those found guilty of corruption.

Vavi acknowledged the government’s tough stance on corruption, but said more needed to be done.

He again called on Cabinet ministers with cars worth more than R1-million to return them.

However, there was some resistance from the congress on this matter.

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) said the matter should not be “personalised”.

The union said the fundamental question was expenditure and that should be the focus.

Cosatu recently criticised Cabinet ministers for spending a lot of money on luxury vehicles.

This, after the South African Communist Party’s general secretary and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande bought a R1,1-million BMW.

While the National Union of Mineworkers said that returning the cars was “not practical”, it agreed with “the general message that those in public office do not create a gap between themselves and their constituency”.

Samwu urged Cosatu to resolve that the Auditor General “must tighten its screws” so that public servants were not able to “fiddle with the auditing process”, currently a problem allowing corruption to take place.

The resolution to tackle public servants with business interests and corruption was passed.

The debate on the political report continues, with a resolution on the planning commission. A response by African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe is expected to contribute to the debate.

Cosatu calls for Reserve Bank to be taken into state ownership
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Cosatu called for the central bank to be stripped of many of its powers and taken into state ownership.

“The Reserve Bank is not neutral.
It is not like you can afford to have it as a bank of private citizens with money,” Vavi told Reuters on the sidelines of the labour group’s conference.

“If you do that you sideline the state itself and all the constituencies in society, including labour. The bank must be state-owned and run.”

The South African central bank is one of very few in the world owned by private shareholders, who have the right to appoint half the board of directors, but have no say in its day-to-day operations or policy.

Cosatu, with 1,9-million members, helped President Jacob Zuma come to power in April but it said at the conference that the government could not count on its unconditional support.

The labour federation condemns policies it sees as too pro-business and has gone head to head with Zuma over a series of pay strikes. He has shown no sign of bowing to union demands.

The unions want more government spending and an end to inflation targeting by the central bank, which they blame for sharp interest rate increases last year. They also want a seat on the bank’s board and for it to come under full state control.

“We propose cutting the powers of the Reserve Bank. There must be a refocusing and we must ensure that that focus is not just about inflation but the entire manner that the country is moving, looking at the impact of its policies on jobs, poverty, inequality, and growth of the economy,” said Vavi.

The Reserve Bank’s governor and deputies are appointed by the president, but it operates independently under a mandate to target inflation at between 3% and 6%.

Speaking later at an accountants’ dinner, Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni shrugged off the criticism.

“We have been able to provide monetary accommodation in these difficult times, but no one is ever satisfied,” he said, referring to Cosatu’s demand for more than the five percentage points in interest rate cuts made since December despite stubborn inflation.

The central bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) met earlier on Tuesday and decided to keep the repo lending rate at 7%, citing balanced inflation risks and signs of improvement in the local and global economy.

“After the MPC meeting I went to the Cosatu conference [and] I was told there was a lot of criticism, but they were friendly. I enjoyed myself and I’m going back tomorrow morning,” he said.—Sapa, Reuters

Natasha Marrian

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