Jonas warns parallel govt could hold real power

2017-02-23 14:33 - Liesl Peyper
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas. (Pic: Matthew le Cordeur)

Cape Town – Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas warned on Thursday of a real danger that South Africa could end up in a situation where there are two “parallel governments” where the big decisions are taken “elsewhere”.

Jonas was in discussion with Daily Maverick journalist Ranjeni Munusamy at a post-budget breakfast function in Cape Town a day after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan delivered his 2017 Budget Speech.

Munusamy pressed Jonas to open up on the attacks launched on National Treasury over the past year, and asked if he and his colleagues had difficulty doing their jobs in the face of the division in the governing party.

READ: Gordhan pulls no punches on attack on Treasury

Although Jonas didn’t mention South Africa or the Gupta family in particular, he said a situation of parallel governments had the potential of eroding the legitimacy and credibility of the state.

“And it becomes even more serious when there’s a situation, like in some countries, where the security forces don’t protect the citizenry any longer. When that slide happens … that’s something we need to look at,” Jonas said.

“Are we too far down the line? Or are we in the beginning? There’s a lot we can do to reverse this trend. But we need to have this conversation. We can’t just wish it away. And this is not just something for the criminal justice system (to solve). Civil society and research institutions also need to delve into this matter.”

Jonas spoke at length about the role that an active citizenry and civil society play in holding government accountable.

“We (at National Treasury) survive because we have an alert society,” he said. “If you underestimate the role of the media and civil society … and because you have this vibrancy certain people get their own TV stations and newspapers,” Jonas said in reference to the Gupta-owned ANN7 TV station and The New Age Newspaper.

Munusamy then touched on the fact that Gordhan in 2016 called on South Africans to “defend” National Treasury. “What we’ve seen is a political attack on institutions. So you can have a strong department like Treasury, but political leadership is vitally important. There must also be the political will to make ideas succeed,” she said.

Jonas conceded that institutions (such as Treasury) can quickly slide into decay. “It can happen in front of our eyes and then we need to ask: ‘Where were you as an individual?’” he said, again reiterating the need for civil society to make its voice heard. 

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