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Monday, May 22, 2017

Frogs, foreign agents, anything but the facts

New finance minister Malusi Gigaba greets outgoing Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile in parliament
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba can expect rebuttals, rebuke and ridicule from the opposition when he delivers his maiden Treasury budget vote speech on Tuesday.
Opposition mudslinging was ubiquitous in the first week of the annual budget vote debate frenzy, as was the shiny fleet of black BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz ministerial cars that were lined up on the precinct.
The 40-odd debates are scheduled to take place over almost three weeks in back-to-back sessions. A few are held simultaneously in the National Assembly and other venues, interspersed with individual ministerial media briefings that triggered fatigue on day one among overworked press gallery journalists.
Altogether last week, 17 ministers chanced their luck at putting a positive spin on their departments’ performance. Broadly themed to the ANC’s buzz words for 2017, their speeches so far have paid tribute to late ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo, endorsed the urgent push for radical economic transformation and stressed the challenge of doing more with less, in line with austerity measures imposed by axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
While ministers glossed over challenges and failures, State Security Minister David Mahlobo deserves the smoke-and-mirror award of the week. In a presentation scant on fact, he referred repeatedly to his paranoia about unnamed foreign agents intent on “unconstitutional regime change”. In his briefing, he boomeranged the spotlight onto the media, imploring journalists to do the right thing and give the public the facts as presented to them.
But why Mahlobo presented a budget vote in the first place is rather odd. The sum total of a financial breakdown for state security is a one-line entry in Treasury’s budget, with the expenditure this year for “secret services” listed as R4.7bn. This means that whatever Mahlobo is up to behind the scenes makes him dangerously unaccountable and highly controversial.
Science and technology, on the other hand, is one of the least controversial departments and Minister Naledi Pandor was treated with kid gloves during her speech. She delivered an uplifting celebration of some of the country’s top science students and innovators. Many achievers were present in the public gallery and given a shoutout from the minister.
In the home affairs debate, it was deemed premature to give new minister Hlengiwe Mkhize a tongue-lashing. Her predecessor, the nattily dressed Gigaba, bore the brunt of MPs’ comedic banter.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Hlengiwe Hlophe repeatedly referred to Gigaba as “minister of Instagram” and made jibes about his perceived links to the Guptas. Among many points of order, an EFF member objected to sexist heckling from an ANC member, who was overheard commenting that Hlophe was criticising Gigaba because “she actually wants him”. Undeterred, Hlophe triggered a new spat by replying: “Unfortunately for the minister, I don’t kiss black frogs.”
To break the monotony of scripted debates, the slurs and jibes are set to continue to roll off the tongues of honourable members throughout this week and next, when President Jacob Zuma has the last say in a reply to the presidency’s budget vote debate on Thursday.
* This article first appeared in City Press.

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