/ 27 October 2017

What Malusi GiGupta didn’t say

Implicated: Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s impeccably tailored suit could not conceal the narrative of a rotten state
Implicated: Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s impeccably tailored suit could not conceal the narrative of a rotten state

The minister of finance, Malusi GiGupta, cut a pathetic and unconvincing figure on Wednesday as he delivered a medium-term budget policy statement that simply confirms the consequences of state capture.

The aesthetics of a beautifully tailored suit could not hide the narrative of a state that is so rotten, it will take a minor miracle for the ANC to recover from the sin of not having reined in President Jacob Zuma, his fellow cronies and their Saxonwold shebeen puppet masters.

GiGupta pretended as though numbers have their own agency. He spoke — not very convincingly but with some effort — like a management consultant, perhaps one working for Trillian or McKinsey, who hopes that an analysis of numbers can shift the conversation away from the human beings behind the numbers.

But that is a trick we cannot fall for. What GiGupta didn’t tell us matters far more than what he did tell us.

To recap: he told us that the economic growth forecast is revised downwards from 1.3% this year to a paltry 0.7%, that the state failed to collect some R50.8-billion in much-needed taxes, that the budget deficit is expected to balloon from the target of 3.1% to 4.3%, and that the gross national debt could be about 60% of our gross domestic product in three years’ time. The last point would necessitate about 15% of the main budget being spent on servicing the debt we have accumulated — an expense that will outstrip what we spend on core governance priorities such as social security.

If you’re a sucker for punishment or if you’re addicted to an
anthropology of low expectations, then you might be tempted to pat him on the back for the honesty. Don’t do that. He is not innocent in the story of how we landed in this hot mess.

Which brings me to what he didn’t tell you. He didn’t tell you that the brutal and unforgiving reason for these numbers is theft by Zuma and his friends, theft facilitated by members of the Zuma government — including himself.

The mid-term budget statement described the status quo accurately. But it intentionally neglected to describe the state capture project that is wholly responsible for low economic growth, a widening budget deficit and a growing debt burden.

Obviously the South African Revenue Service (Sars) won’t collect taxes as effectively as it did five years ago, because it is a site of contestation in the battle to capture the state. Corruption explains why we have this revenue shortfall. GiGupta didn’t mention that little truth. Sars, like GiGupta himself, is a shadow of its former self.

The same goes for economic growth. I could not believe the complete and utter hubris when the minister waffled in platitudes about the theoretical role of state-owned companies as engines of growth.

What the fudge, Malusi? You enabled key state-owned companies to be hijacked from South Africa Inc by allowing dodgy board and other appointments when you were minister of public enterprises. The bulldust at SAA, the looting from Transnet and Eskom and other strategic state-owned entities happened on your watch.

That is the political legacy that GiGupta didn’t tell you about on Wednesday. His entire speech made it seem as though he is an alien who arrived on Tuesday and was given a set of terse facts, and a Ben Okri quote to perform the following day.

We wouldn’t be in this economic mess if the ANC wasn’t in the crisis-ridden state it is in.

That is the stark truth: politicians, not cold numbers and graphs, lie behind the state of our state. Unless and until we address the state capture elephant in the Saxonwold shebeen, these numbers will simply go from bad to worse.

But, of course, I didn’t expect GiGupta to keep it real. How could he? He is implicated in the state capture project.

He is beholden to the grandmasters using him as a chess pawn in a game in which the taxpayer is under massive attack because those who are meant to be on our side are actually friends and employees of the enemy.

To add insult to state capture injury, GiGupta shamelessly thanked his predecessors in the finance ministry

Really, dude? You thank folks like Pravin Gordhan who were cliffed by Atul Gupta precisely because Gordhan was an obstacle to the looting. That shout-out to Gordhan and Trevor Manuel rang hollow.

Just as hollow as the Okri references to an imagined imminent harvest. It would have been more poetically apt to quote a different Okri gift to the world, The Famished Road.

It often feels like we are characters floating between a material world and a spiritual one, with little harvest to be excited about, and plentiful dreaminess to make sense of.

GiGupta, like his boss Zuma, is part of the problem and therefore cannot be a partner with civil society in search of urgent solutions.