Ebrahim Patel and Trudi Makhaya (picture supplied by the dti)
By John Fraser
Sometimes you can tell a lot from how a question is not answered. So it was instructive to hear from the President’s Economic Advisor Trudi Makhaya as she joined Trade and Industry mega-minister Ebrahim Patel for a pre-dawn briefing on next month’s Investment Summit.
(When I say it was pre-dawn, it was actually at 8am, which is pre-dawn for any self-respecting journo).
She and Patel were asked if they hoped to better the pledges for new investment which were made at last year’s Summit, which amounted to R300bn.
In a textbook example of economistic babble, she noted that investment can come in bunches, and the trend is more important than any individual set of numbers.
Then came the real giveaway, when she said: “One could argue that we overshot last year.”
This makes sense. There was low-hanging fruit to pluck last year and a suspicion by close observers that some of the investment projects were already in the pipeline when they were scooped-up into Cyril’s line-up and announced at a ceremony based closely on a Hollywood gala. Newish, rather than still-in-the-box new.
So, expectations are being managed. This year’s total may be a bit lower and the spin is being crafted.
You had to be awake to notice this warning, which is probably why the briefing was held before the average journo’s wake-up alarm had begun to buzz.
It was interesting, meanwhile, to learn that a team of outside advisors has been hired to assist with the communications at the Summit.
A cynic might suggest this implies a lack of enthusiasm for the efforts (ability?) of the many highly-paid civil servants who are normally entrusted with turning ministerial statements into common sense.
It could also mean that the sponsors – who include Vodacom, Anglo American and (what is left of) Naspers – are happily funding the communications budget along with the rest of the three-day bean-feast.
Certainly, there is immense room for clearer communication at this second Summit. The first one seemed almost entirely aimed at the TV screens, a sort of Mr/Mrs/Miss/All Three (one must be modern about these things) Investor grand final.
(Just as well that those pledging will be judged by the contents of their wallets and not their looks.)
I am still giving Cyril the benefit of the doubt. Unlike his predecessor, he is raking in cash for the good of the country, not the hoods of the country (Guptas et al).
One could argue that we overshot last year. So what if this year the total to be announced falls short R300bn?
The struggle continues, and hopefully, Eskom will keep the lights on for long enough to enable the delegates to fill in and sign (preferably in blood) their pledge forms.
Every billion counts.