'You can't have everything at the same time' – Mboweni looks back at a year in office

2019-10-24 06:01 - Jan Cronje
Tito Mboweni.

On October 9, 2018, former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni was appointed minister of finance, replacing Nhlanhla Nene.

Mboweni, at the time, said he had counselled President Ramaphosa to chose a younger minister, but the president was adamant."I began jotting down names of people he should think about. Then I was told that the mandate of the meeting was not to seek advice. So, advice was out of the question."

On Tuesday, a year and two weeks after he was sworn in, Mboweni addressed was in Parliament for a discussion around a R59bn lifeline for cash-strapped power utility Eskom.

"I joined this house in October last year, so maybe you should have said happy anniversary to me," he started.

The minister said that since assuming office he had learned that the minister finance is "burdened" with having to find resources for Eskom, SAA, South Africa Express, Denel and Alexkor, fund SA's large state wage bill, and find money for to ageing infrastructure and more.

Give and take

All this, he said, had to take place "within the context of declining tax revenue due to low economic growth". According to Momentum Investments, based on current tax receipts and expected VAT refunds, the SA Revenue Service would be collecting "around R50bn" less tax than projected in the 2018 Budget.

The minister, who will present his second mini budget next week on Wednesday, said that when he hears MPs declaring Eskom must be funded, he asks from where he must take the money. 

"There needs to be a give and take, you can't have everything at the same time."

The minister did not provide specifics about further funding proposals for Eskom or plans to reduce its debt burden of about R450bn. He is expected to speak about ways put the utility on a sustainable path at the mini budget.

Complex problems need complex answers 

Problems at the national power utility were not just financial, he said, and complex issues meant complex solutions were needed. 

These included appointing the right people as executives and board members, and holding them to account.

As he had done in the past he asked Parliamentarians to help create a culture of payment. Municipal debt owed to Eskom has grown to R25.1bn.

"Go mobilise your people to render unto Eskom what belongs to Eskom as a law-abiding citizen."