Six women who could take over the reins at Treasury

2018-02-23 12:16 - Lameez Omarjee
The National Treasury in Pretoria. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

EVEN though President Cyril Ramaphosa did not budge on calls to remove Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba ahead of the Budget Speech this week, there is a general consensus among analysts that Gigaba’s days at Treasury are numbered.

The question of Gigaba’s future at Treasury has dominated its briefings this week. On Tuesday Deputy Minister Sfiso Buthelezi came to Gigaba’s defence and said only the president could provide an answer.

At a briefing in Parliament ahead of the Budget Speech on Wednesday, Gigaba once again told a room full of journalists that he serves at the pleasure of the president. South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane, who was also at the briefing, could not escape questions about his future at the tax authority. There have been numerous calls for his removal too.

As the briefing concluded, Treasury director general Dondo Mogajane gave the assurance that the integrity of the work done at Treasury continues, regardless of who is the finance minister. Right next to him, Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago - who also served as director general between 2005 and 2011 - nodded in agreement.

Looking at the panel of five men, who are responsible for vital policies which affect the lives of millions, I considered the transformation in leadership over the past 24 years of democracy. I was disappointed because there were no women on that panel in 2018.

In a post-budget dinner with colleagues, which also involved discussions about the perils of using Tinder, we agreed that it was high time to unmatch with Gigaba and swipe right on Moyane. Someone called for Kganyago’s return to Treasury, this time as minister. Not one person proposed a woman to take the lead.

A seasoned political journalist I spoke to on the matter could only suggest Naledi Pandor, currently minister of science and technology. I assume it’s because Pandor’s been at the helm of a number of departments in her career. She was meant to step into the role of acting finance minister when former finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was to attend an investor road show which was abruptly called off last year.

This preceded former president Jacob Zuma’s second-last Cabinet reshuffle, where Gordhan was replaced by Gigaba.

Clockwise from top left: Executive director and deputy CEO of MMI Holdings Mary Vilakazi, ABSA Group CEO Maria Ramos, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, former CEO of Shanduka Group Phuti Mahanyele, economist Thabi Leoka, former Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus. (Pictures: File, Gallo Images)

Another one of my friends felt that former governor Gill Marcus could do the job, and ABSA CEO Maria Ramos. But she admitted she only picked those women because they’re the only female leaders in business she could think of in that moment.

Marcus was the first woman to hold the position of governor and was the deputy minister of finance under the Mandela administration between 1996 and 1999.

Ramos also has a history with Treasury, having served as director general of what was then known as the department of finance between 1996 and 2003. She led state-owned company Transnet between 2004 and 2009 before joining ABSA.

I was struggling to think of names too. I could only consider global leaders like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Oprah Winfrey. But that’s only because I’ve read Sandberg’s book Lean In and Oprah’s TV show was a staple for kids growing up in the 90s.

Getting behind Merkel and May

Other global leaders I admire are Germany’s President Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Even though they’re not popular in some quarters, they have the grit to hold their ground in a world that’s still dominated by male influence. That says a lot to girls and women who are trying to make a mark in the world while facing so much opposition.

After digging deep I considered local names such as deputy CEO of financial services group MMI Mary Vilakazi. I interviewed Vilakazi in 2016 and I was struck by her ability to run a household and still have oversight over 400 employees in her department at the time.

Vilakazi, who is a chartered accountant, has also held several directorships throughout her career including the role of chief financial officer.

Another woman Ramaphosa can consider for the job is Phuti Mahanyele, former CEO of Shanduka Group, which Ramaphosa had founded while he was still a businessman. Mahanyele also has a stellar CV and has been recognised globally for her leadership by the World Economic Forum. She is the current executive chairperson of Sigma Capital.

Economist Thabi Leoka should also be up for the running. Leoka is of the view that Ramaphosa should prioritise uplifting the lives of the poor and providing quality education. She is an economist who understands the different interests of stakeholders - investors and the poor – which would serve well in achieving inclusive economic growth. 

Who will lead SA’s Treasury?

When the time comes, who should Ramaphosa appoint as head of Treasury? During his reply of the SONA debate, Ramaphosa said efforts would be made to address gender disparities. Broadly speaking, I hope that means he will start appointing women in some of the more serious portfolios of government.

When Ramaphosa makes the call for Treasury, at least we will know he had several options among the fairer sex from whom to choose.

* Lameez Omarjee is a journalist for Fin24. Views expressed are her own.

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