SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said the ANC is acting out of desperation in addressing the myriad problems the country is facing as it realises it may not come out of next year’s election with a majority.
Kieswetter made these comments in an interview with Business Times, where he also criticised the government’s mismanagement of public funds.
The SARS Commissioner was persuaded to return to public service in 2019 to fix the country’s revenue service ravaged by state capture.
For the first time since his return, Kieswetter said there is genuine urgency and desire from the government to engage with multiple stakeholders to turn the country around.
“There’s a desperate realisation by the government that they have not delivered at the rate the public expects, and because the ruling party is now facing for the first time an election that is not a slam dunk,” said Kieswetter.
“That sense of desperation and urgent pressure has brought many of the actors within government to the point where they say, We need help.”
“I’ve never seen since my return to government such a level of readiness and deep conversations taking place between civil society, business, and government in the most serious way.”
The SARS Commissioner also said the solution to the country’s problems is not solely down to the ANC or the government.
“It’s about South Africa. We all have to roll up our sleeves wherever we can.”
“The national crisis committees effectively being run by the private sector have increased the probability of meaningful progress at last.”
Kieswetter also sharply criticised the ANC’s cadre deployment policy, saying it cannot create a capable state.
“I have been against cadre deployment my entire life. I have always been a proponent of building a capable state based on meritocracy, not loyalty to a party,” said Kieswetter.
The Commissioner’s comments echo those of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, who lamented the lack of skills within the government.
This lack of skills has been created, in part, by the government itself through its cadre deployment policy.
“You can’t put a weapon in the hands of somebody who is not well-trained. What has happened with cadre deployment has been to place a weapon in the hands of somebody who is not well-trained,” Godongwana said.
This is self-defeating in some cases. “When this untrained person has the weapon, he can even shoot you – the person who gave him the weapon. That has been the fundamental weakness of cadre deployment.”
When asked if he has been able to convince some of his fellow ANC members about the dangers of cadre deployment, Godongwana replied, “I’ve got the Zondo report on my side.”
The Finance Minister is specifically concerned about the potential impact of cadre deployment on the National Treasury.
Godongwana explained that all treasuries worldwide have two things in common – technical competency and fiscal conservatism.
“Those that lack these characteristics tend to go to the IMF regularly and ask for bailouts.”
“So, if you come to the Treasury with cadre deployment, you would kill the institution. Stone dead,” Godongwana said.
The National Treasury needs high levels of competency and professionalism while being free to diverge from the ruling party’s ideology.
Godongwana said the role of the Finance Minister is to mediate this tension between the ruling party and the Treasury.