Why Treasury Should Be Transformed, Not Treasured

Is the National Treasury, as a CityPress editorial claimed on 26 February, truly a “powerhouse of big brains and safe hands”, “a template for good governance”, “a hothouse of talent filled with expensive and committed officials” under “excellent political leadership”, and “a careful place”?

No. The Sunday Times asked a good question two weeks ago: “Did the Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, really think that a decision to spend R300 billion over the next 17 years on nuclear power stations did not merit a mention in his budget speech?”

That newspaper reminded readers of the “greed, fraud, corruption and cover-ups surrounding the R45-billion arms deal” financed by Gordhan’s predecessor, Trevor Manuel. As former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein revealed, Manuel advised, “It’s possible there was some shit in the deal. But if there was, no one will ever uncover it. They’re not that stupid. Just let it lie.”

With a similarly careless attitude, Gordhan’s pro-privatisation infrastructure budget promotes not only nuclear madness but also hundreds of billions of rands worth of coal-fired power plants, more coal exports, further water-degradation of Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, and highway commercialization.

Yet the COP17 climate summit last December was hosted here in Gordhan’s home town of Durban. Last month, Yale and Colombia university researchers rated SA the fifth worst ‘environmental performer’ amongst the 132 countries studied due mainly to emissions.

Can we really brag about this filthy infrastructure, which will mainly export superprofits to London and Melbourne mining houses? Anglo and BHP Billiton already get the world’s cheapest electricity, paid for by imposing a 150 percent price increase on everyone else the last four years.

Vast overspending and outright corruption in energy infrastructure – as well as in white-elephant soccer stadiums, Lesotho mega-dams, the elite Gautrain, new or upgraded airports, and Coega’s industrial zone – are rife. Recall the dodgy R40 billion Eskom purchase of powerplant boilers made by Hitachi and the ANC’s Chancellor House, which will not be delivered on time, hence risking another round of load-shedding.

SA also suffers amongst the world’s highest unemployment, inequality and interest rates, a soaring foreign debt (now $120 billion, up from $25 billion in 1994), and vast outflows of capital thanks to unending exchange-control deregulation – all due to mismanagement by the Treasury and SA Reserve Bank. They fail to regulate persistent capital flight by big corporations, in 2007 amounting to a reported 20 percent of GDP.

The Treasury remains addicted to failed neoliberal policies, leaving our economy in the doldrums. It is worthy only of enthusiastic condemnation by a newspaper of CityPress’ caliber. 

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