Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on Wednesday said he would strive to protect the National Treasury from political interference but conceded that he would be naive to think he could succeed.
“I thought one thing I am going to try to do is provide political protection to National Treasury or to the extent that is naively possible,” Mboweni told journalists shortly before tabling his maiden medium term budget policy statement in Parliament.
The finance minister, who has only been in the portfolio for a few weeks, was responding to a question on how he would handle the populist wing of the ruling African National Congress.
“To keep it free from unnecessary interference, I will do that, it is nigh impossible but I will try to do that….we understand the political environment very well.”
Mboweni said National Treasury held talks with leaders of political parties represented in Parliament this week, and he would delegate Deputy Minister Mondli Gungubele to liaise with them regularly to forge consensus around fiscal policy.
He was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this month to replace Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned after confirming that he had failed to disclose several meetings with the Gupta family.
Nene had become a target for the Economic Freedom Fighters, who are seen as forcing Ramaphosa to the left on the key issue of land redistribution in a bid to bolster support for the ANC ahead of national elections in 2019.
Mboweni bucked several lines of conventional thinking in the ANC on Wednesday as he mooted closing state-owned enterprises that were beyond rescue and said he felt uncomfortable with the notion of service delivery, a policy and election campaign staple.
It implied a passivity he disliked.
“There is a conceptual framework I don’t like, service delivery, it is like people sitting there waiting for bread to be delivered…I prefer a developmental approach.”
The minister added that he wanted to move away from the notion that the state was the sole provider of basic services and invited the private sector to cooperate in this regard.
He also said that if consulted on the subject by Ramaphosa, he would propose trimming Cabinet to at most 25 ministers, because there was no political or financial justification for having an executive of 35 ministers.
Ramaphosa announced a review of the size of government earlier this year.
Mboweni also stressed that he wanted to stem procurement fraud, saying he feared that the announcement in his mid term policy speech of an allocation to deal with the shortage of bed linen in hospitals would see “some heist gang waiting to put a tender that is illegal”.
“We have become known for heists, there is a heist everywhere.”
He said National Treasury was hoping the linen could be sourced instead from a workshop for the disabled set up by the department of labour.