/ 23 December 2013

Gordhan retirement comment taken out of context, says Sikhakhane

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan operates on a two week cycle as he prepares to be ousted at any stage.
Finance minister Pravin Gordhan operates on a two week cycle as he prepares to be ousted at any stage.

Speculation is rife about finance minister Pravin Gordhan's future in public office after an interview published at the weekend.

Gordhan's spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane said nothing was certain yet and the minister's  remarks were  taken out of context.  

Gordhan reportedly told the Sunday Independent he was ready to retire from his post of finance minister when his five year term is up next year when South Africans go to the polls.

"That decision is partly personal, partly political," he told the newspaper, adding the party line: "The ANC will decide."

But Sikhakhane said on Monday the issue had been taken out of context.

"The context in which these issues arose was the fact that the minister will be turning 65 in April next year," he told the Mail & Guardian.

The country's fifth democratic election is likely to take place in April.

Member of Parliament
Assuming the ANC wins the election and Jacob Zuma gets a second term as South African president, he will then appoint his cabinet, which is a presidential prerogative in terms of the Constitution.

Sources have said Gordhan is ready to move on from trying to keep a tight rein on a difficult cabinet prone to wasteful expenditure  and will not even avail himself to be a member of Parliament should he make the ANC list for the National Assembly.

The ANC meets early in January to finalise its national candidates' list.

Sikhakhane told the M&G there was no point in speculating about what was next for Gordhan as it was up to the ANC to decide.

"Whether you are a minister or not is not your decision. His comments [in the interview]  have nothing to do with being a member of Parliament or not."

After the Sunday Independent  interview,  Gordhan's office sought  to clarify matters.

It said the minister’s response that his return would  be decided by the president of the ANC was a standard answer by many ministers.

"It is informed by the fact that ministers do not appoint themselves but are appointed by the president of the Republic of South Africa."

Investor concerns
It also  dismissed  another aspect of the report that suggested Gordhan would be meeting with his family to discuss his next move.

"There is no special family meeting that minister Gordhan has convened to discuss his retirement from public office."

Sources have indicated that even if Gordhan bowed out, there were others who could succeed him as finance minister without creating instability or spooking the markets or investor confidence.

His deputy Nhlanhla Nene, for example, has risen fast through the ranks. Previously the chair of the National Assembly's finance committee,  Nene  was appointed deputy finance minister in November 2008 during the fallout over previous president Thabo Mbeki's recall.  

Nene was also  punted as a possible successor to Trevor Manuel in 2009, but Gordhan got the nod instead.

Despite having to contend with a complex political environment, Gordhan has delivered a consistent performance since he came into office as finance minister in 2009, scoring a B in the M&G's annual cabinet report card this year.

During his time as finance minister, the administration under Jacob Zuma has suffered a number of embarrassing scandals, including the splurging of up to R206-million of public funds on a security upgrade at Zuma's private residence in Nkandla.

While Gordhan has been commended for keeping a tight grip on South Africa’s fiscal discipline and maintaining a strong position on corruption and wasteful expenditure, the latter still  increased under Zuma’s leadership. 

Shortly before his term of office came to an end, then Auditor General Terrence Nombembe  found that government had wasted more than R30-billion over the past financial year. 

In his report for 2013/14, Nombembe also found that government had awarded R233-million in tenders to companies in which public servants, or their close families, had interests.

Gordhan is also a member of the ruling party’s national executive committee.

Before being appointed as finance minister he headed the South African Revenue Service for 10 years and was commended in both roles.

Gordhan had previously served as an MP in South Africa’s first democratic Parliament .