/ 5 October 2021

Mboweni calls on business to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies

South Africa's Finance Minister Mboweni's Tough South African Budget Task
Former finance minister Tito Mboweni. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Reflecting on his tenure as finance minister, Tito Mboweni said on Monday that he feels like a war veteran after stepping down in August.

“The demands on the fiscus in South Africa, as is the case in many parts of the world, are immense, particularly in the context of high unemployment. We constantly have to balance the responsibilities to serve and protect the people in our countries … with a broader objective to grow the economy,” said Mboweni, who was delivering the seventh Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Annual Lecture on values-based leadership hosted by Rhodes University.

Demands were made on the budget and the result, Mboweni said, was more borrowing, leading to more debt “and getting the country more and more towards a debt crisis”.

To “get economy recovery going” it was important to improve educational outcomes throughout the system, particularly early childhood development, and implement youth employment interventions. 

He said skills constraints must be addressed by importing skills from abroad “to show that we have a capable and developmental state”.

“We do not need more planning or guesswork about what needs to be done. We know what needs to be done, we just need to get on with what we need to do,” said Mboweni stressing that state administration must be up to the task to drive economic renewal.

He called on business to adopt a just and sustainable economic system, pointing to the United Nations’ Global Compact that advocates sustainable and socially responsible policies.

“This global corporate stage means operating in ways which meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption, yet, the general essence of the global business community remains the endless pursuit of profits before people”.

Stressing the importance of the 2021 UN climate change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in early November in Scotland, he said, ”Corporate citizens need to report on how they’re handling labour and employment principles. It is high time that the business community sees the work of social and ethics committees not as mere ticking box exercises and make them fundamental to their value system.”