Newly appointed Finance Minister Tito Mboweni received a warm welcome by Parliament’s oversight committee on finance on Tuesday, and in a tongue-and-cheek moment asked for grace during his “maiden years” in the position.
President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Mboweni as finance minister last week after Nhlanhla Nene resigned over his failure to disclose several visits to the private residence of the controversial Gupta family between 2009 and 2014.
Mboweni walked into the meeting on Tuesday morning shortly after a National Treasury delegation led by Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele and Director General Dondo Mogajane started briefing the committee on Treasury’s annual report.
Committee chair Yunus Carrim welcomed Mboweni to Parliament, but also lamented the departure of his predecessor. “Congratulations on your appointment as minister. We will have different views on Nene’s departure, but we wish him well too. We regret the circumstances under which he had to go. He offered to resign and in an accountable government, that should not be unusual,” said Carrim.
Mboweni, who served as the governor of the SA Reserve Bank for a decade between 1999 and 2009, thanked the chair and the committee. He hinted, in a tongue-in-cheek moment, that he would appreciate it if the committee gave him the opportunity to get his bearings straight for the unenviable task before him.
“I look forward to working with you. I share your sentiments about my predecessor, but we do have to move on. I hope you will be nice to me as a committee until the end of the year. There is something known as the maiden years. I hope you will grant me pleasant maiden years,” said Mboweni.
Carrim said government needed to take decisive action to mitigate the impact of economic decisions such as the one percentage point increase in the VAT rate introduced at the beginning of the year and recurrant petrol price increases.
“We are very ill at ease about the VAT increases. We have heard the voices of civil society, labour and business on this matter. We don’t want to be seen as party to an exercise that strings the country along. There have to be meaningful concessions,” Carrim said.
Carrim also stressed that an urgent and meaningful intervention was needed to soften the blow of decisions which pushed the cost of living up for South Africans.
The chair added that members of the committee would be unapologetic about their opposition to illicit financial flows, base erosion and profit shifting.
Committee member for the EFF, Floyd Shivambu, a vocal critic of illicit financial flows, was conspicuous in his absence. Shivambu has been caught up in allegations that he may have benefitted from money earned by his brother, Brian Shivambu, from a company related to VBS Mutual Bank. Shivambu has denied the allegations.
Committee member for the Democratic Alliance, David Maynier, welcomed Mboweni’s appointment, adding his party would hold him accountable. “We welcome and congratulate the new minister. However, we as the committee must warn the minister that since even he admits that he is being recycled, his honeymoon is going to be rather short,” said Maynier.
In a more lighthearted moment, the ANC’s Thandi Tobias recited the “Shaa-Shaa” refrain of Cassper Nyovest’s 2017 song, which was named after the new finance minister.