The Big Read: Finance minister always walks the path of the damned - Times LIVE
   
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Wed Mar 29 05:18:57 SAST 2017

The Big Read: Finance minister always walks the path of the damned

Justice Malala | 2017-02-20 09:10:08.0
DEAD MAN WALKING? Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on his way to delivering his mini-budget speech last year
Image by: Isa Alexander

It is always an occasion. It can be a happy occasion, as the heady days of 4% to 5% economic growth under Trevor Manuel's stewardship were. Those were the days.

At the time the finance minister, who was then head of the revenue services, would be singled out for praise because his tax haul would always outstrip projections and even the most optimistic of expectations. Unemployment was being relentlessly pushed down despite the "no jobs growth" narrative. Economic growth was a beautiful number year after year.

The man looks at himself in the mirror and wonders what tie to wear. The tie is important. The young whippersnapper Julius Malema once said that Manuel had been advised against wearing a red necktie as this represented socialism. Everything - a cough or a smile or who one stands next to - sends a message.

It is always an occasion. It used to be a happy occasion.

Last year it was sombre and sad and stressful. Does anyone remember what that budget speech was like?

As the media hype goes into overdrive, is anyone raising their head from the present and reflecting on the past year and its numerous scandals and attempts to get rid of this finance minister?

On budget day 2016, as Pravin Gordhan prepared to put his tie on, this man was considering the ominous letter sent to him by Hawks boss Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza - a man whom a high court judge declared a liar - just days before he delivered his budget speech.

The letter contained 27 questions that the minister had to answer by March 2 2016 - a week after the speech - relating to the so-called rogue unit at SA Revenue Services that was formed while the minister headed SARS.

Those were stressful days. Yet, despite all that, the right thing was done. The budget was delivered. The trade unions were supportive and the business community nodded their heads in agreement.

The ratings agencies, circling like vultures around South Africa, were prudent. They knew good men and good women were fighting the good fight, so they stayed their hand and did not downgrade the country's sovereign credit rating.

The goodwill fostered by this tripartite collaboration continued throughout the year.

Good work never stops. Good work continued at the Treasury and a few other departments.

But it is a naïve person who thinks that because good men do great work then the nefarious and the greedy are at home sewing. They, too, organise. Key to the works of evil men is that they don't stop. They work all the time.

And so it was that a pliable national prosecutor, Shaun "The Sheep" Abrahams, announced on October 11 2016 that the minister and two others had been summoned to court on fraud charges relating to an early retirement payout to an employee way back in 2010. No one missed the fact that this was just before the mini-budget.

And here we are again, says the man, as he reaches for his tie this Wednesday, February 22 2017.

He smiles at the mirror as he knots his tie. Are we, my deputy and I, dead men walking? Are we about to be fired by the man at the top? The same man who appointed us but who constantly speaks an economic and budgetary language that is at odds with the people he appointed?

The signs are ominous.

A man who is in the pocket of the notorious Gupta family, Brian Molefe, is being sworn into parliament. The former health minister and the putative president of the party, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is also about to be sworn in. Are they about to play tag and become finance minister and deputy finance minister?

No one knows. Certainly the man known as Number One is not saying. He is as silent as a stone. Yet others are talking, and talking keenly. The axe may come down, perhaps soon after the budget speech is delivered, or perhaps later.

There will be others on that walk from office to National Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

The finance minister's deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, will be beside him. Jonas is a man who doesn't always do up his tie. Lungisa Fuzile, the director-general, will be there. The new SARS chief, Tom Moyane, might not be there. He is on the other side.

The finance minister knows they might not all be here in a few days, weeks, certainly years. But he will walk this path. It is the path of the damned, but he will walk it.

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