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Magda Wierzycka: Good people in government need to stay the course

Nov 13 2017 20:01
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – People in mid-tier positions in government – like Michael Sachs from National Treasury – need to stay the course, as hard as it may be, said Magda Wierzycka, CEO at Sygnia asset management on Monday.

Speaking to Fin24 in an exclusive interview, Wierzycka said when officials such as Sachs start leaving the public sector the entire fabric of institutions risk being destroyed. “And once you’ve done that, it’s so much more difficult to fix things.”

Sachs, a veteran at National Treasury who has headed up the budget office, resigned last week, reportedly as a result of the Presidency’s interference in the budget processes.

Fin24 earlier reported that there are rumours that President Jacob Zuma intends on releasing a plan to reallocate R40bn from within the constrained budget to fund a free-education policy for families who earn less than R350 000.

This despite Zuma's release on Monday of the Heher Report, which revealed that the country can't afford a free education plan.

READ: Zuma's populist faction has given up on pacifying ratings agencies - Silke 

Wierzycka said if mid-tier officials start leaving the public service, the country will face even bigger problems. Her message to them is: “It doesn’t matter if you’re not being listened to. Document, monitor, stay where you are – you’re the people who’ll be needed to fix this country.

“The plunder will not go on forever. And when it ends, whichever way, we need good people in those positions to start fixing the country. The biggest tragedy would be if they’re all gone. And suddenly you look at depleted organisations and you won’t know who to recruit. Because you’ll have to start rebuilding processes from scratch.”

Asked whether public officials who have left will consider coming back when circumstances improve, Wierzycka said it’s unlikely.

“Chances are that they’ll be absorbed by the private sector. And then it’s unlikely that they’ll go back into public sector. These people will be in normality after they’ve lived through this craziness. And once they’ve done that, to then jump back to fix broken systems is a big ask. Not many would do that.”

Sachs is the latest in a number of high profile resignations at National Treasury to resign, following Gigaba’s appointment at the end of March.

READ: Lungisa Fuzile's departure from National Treasury a 'radical blow' 

Lungisa Fuzile, former director general at National Treasury, who had been with the institution since 1998, left his position in mid-May and was succeeded by Dondo Mogajane.

City Press in October quoted senior officials at National Treasury saying that the institution has been "captured".

Gigaba reportedly brought in nearly 20 staff members who have set up a parallel administration in his office.

Sources also told the publication that Gigaba is taking National Treasury in an entirely different direction and that he reportedly does not consult deputy directors general (DDGs) and other technocrats when making important decisions.

Wierzycka however pointed out that National Treasury is not “captured” as some would claim, but rather “toothless”.

READ: Magda Wierzycka: Treasury has outsourced South Africa's economic decision-making to Zuma 

“We had Gigaba standing up in Parliament with his medium term budget speech, saying: ‘Here are the numbers. I can present the state of the nation to you financially and it’s a disaster. And I have no growth plan, no ability to rein in expenditure and hence I’m passing the buck to the President who will appoint a committee to advise him on what to do, what to sell and where to cut spending. Because I and National Treasury have no plan. And even if we did, we have no ability to implement it, because no one listens to us.’”

Wierzycka also dismissed reports that Gigaba was “plotting” something.

“If only! They’re plotting nothing, and that’s the problem. Meanwhile, good people are resigning.” 

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