The rift between government and business threatens anti-corruption drive

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Is he listening?

By John Fraser

The Metals and Engineering Indaba in Johannesburg (Thursday) saw an unusually forceful attack against the government for failing to engage with business, accompanied in turn by attacks on business for failing to do more to speak out against corruption.

Kaizer Nyatsumba, the CEO of the SA Steel and Engineering Industries Federation (SIEFSA), led the charge, with a fiery blast against the President, his Deputy, and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies – saying he had “struggled” to get them to come along to the event.

“We are deeply concerned we have not seen a higher level of commitment from dti and the Presidency itself. They waited until the 11th hour to inform us they will not be joining us,” he complained.

“We are deeply concerned when elected officials do not take this sector seriously. In the past, some at the dti have wanted to lean on us to exclude members of the opposition from the programme.

“I have been deeply alarmed at such conduct. Some people in this ministry (the dti) tend to see themselves as deployed party apparatchiks. Not once in 4 years have we had the dti minister or the Director-General.”

He said that because of low backing from the ANC, DA leader Mmusi Maimane would instead be closing the conference.

He noted that there has never been an annual Mining Indaba without the presence of the Minister of Minerals and Resources.

“We need a serious change in attitude from the dti – and the provincial government to the metals and engineering sector,” he warned.

Ann Bernstein from the Centre for Development and Enterprise said “SA needs a new attitude to the role of business in national development; there is a pervasive anti-business sentiment in Government. This narrative has to change.”

But she also warned that business leaders have a vital role to play.

“At the moment they seem to be missing in action. I commend Kaizer Nyatsumba for being honest about the complete disdain politicians show to business.

“Organised business has said almost nothing in public about the budget and budget-busting wage settlements. Or the ANC’s efforts to amend the constitution. Where is the voice of business? We are concerned about business silence?

“The President is mainly subject to pressure from the bad guys. Business has failed to make a compelling, public case for higher prioritisation of economic growth – for key reforms to accelerate growth.

“Organised business has to be the voice of growth. Failure to do so in recent months is a wasted opportunity.

“Business leaders must play a strategic and public role to ensure we do not implement policies that will undermine investment, growth and jobs.”

Massmart and Aspen chairman Kuseni Dlamini said: “Business leaders should lead the charge and invest in our economy. We also need to embrace productivity in the marketplace.”

The call for business to be more outspoken was echoed by OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage.

“We believe business is missing in action. They need to stand up more often. We see the Carbon Tax being pushed through. There is so much silence,” he warned.

“We need to be firm in standing up to the government. The government has a bullying approach to civil society. OUTA turned to the public and we receive funding of R4m a month. It is sad we have to say: where is business? Why are they leaving this work to civil society?”

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had been invited to participate with Duvenage in a discussion on corruption but did not attend.

Duvenage called on organised business to step out of the shadows.

“Industry associations are not doing enough. Government leans on them and they keep quiet. They should go and light some fires,” he said.

“Business says to us: we love the work you do, but we don’t want to cross swords with government.”

Meanwhile, Duvenage also called for auditing firms to be tougher with their clients in rooting our corruption.

“We would like to see auditing companies putting their foot down with business. To say: we want to look at corruption within your business. How much business do you do with governments? Show us the contracts: what are the facilitation fees? The auditing firms should find that stuff,” he said.

“If the auditing industry says there is a new normal, we will see more courage, and more boards asking for help to root out corruption.”

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