JOHANNESBURG – The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has condemned the possible use of Public Investment Corporation (PIC) funds to bail out bankrupt state-owned enterprises (SOEs), saying if the reports are accurate it also means Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba either lied or willfully misled parliament.
Saftu was shocked at Gigaba’s statement to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) central executive committee that that he could not guarantee that government would not attempt to use PIC funds to capitalise SOEs and other projects, Saftu said said in a statement on Saturday.
“This confirms earlier reports that the government wants to use workers’ money from their pension and provident funds to bail out loss-making state-owned enterprises, in particular South African Airways (SAA), which reportedly needs almost R10 billion to stabilise its cash flow and guarantee no loss of jobs.”
Gigaba’s statement contradicted an assurance by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to MPs in June that “What one can say clearly is that the Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF), which is managed by PIC, will always make sure that funds of contributors are safe and well-managed”.
Bailing out SOEs which had been bankrupted through mismanagement and corruption could not possibly amount to “safe and well-managed” use of the funds, Saftu said.
“If the report is accurate, it also means the minister either lied or willfully misled parliament when, in response to a question, he denied that he was investigating the possibility of SAA seeking funding from the PIC.”
The GEPF had already paid out billions of rand to the equally debt-ridden Eskom. For the year ending March 2016 – the latest available reported figures – it increased its ownership of Eskom debt through the additional purchase of R8.3 billion of Eskom bonds. The GEPF thus held R73.7 billion of bonds and bills in Eskom, making it the largest single owner of Eskom debt by far.
On May 25, 2017, when the possibility of using more PIC funds to save SAA was first reported, Saftu said “The GEPF holds the money contributed by public servants to provide them and their dependents with an income when they resign, retire, or die. The fund is managed by the PIC, which is obliged to ensure that this money is invested responsibly and wisely. If however the PIC pays out GEPF funds to fill massive holes of debts at loss-making SOEs like Eskom and SAA, which are unable to raise loans on the market in the light of the government being down-graded by the ratings agencies, the GEPF will inevitably eventually become unsustainable.”
In its statement on Saturday, Saftu said that if indeed the GEPF itself became unsustainable, the National Treasury would have to bail it out because it was a guaranteed benefit fund which legally had to pay out the full pensions and benefits its members and dependents were entitled to. So indirectly, the tax-payers would become “cash cows, injecting millions of rands, via the GEPF, into the pockets of bankrupt SOEs”.
This diversion of tax revenues would then inevitably lead to further delays in implementing the national health insurance scheme, comprehensive social security, free education, infrastructure maintenance, and cuts in the existing levels of spending on essential services. It would therefore be an assault on the living standards of the poor and the goal of a better life for all.
“And this attack on the living standards of South Africans will have been carried out by a minister who claims to want ‘radical economic transformation’, proving yet again that this is nothing but empty rhetoric,” Saftu said.
“Saftu therefore supports the call by its affiliate Nupsaw [National Union Of Public Service and Allied Workers] for the National Treasury to refrain from using the PIC to re-finance SAA and not to be trapped in a system dominated by cronyism and corruption.
“This latest move by Gigaba further justifies the submission by Saftu unions for a section 77 notice at Nedlac [National Economic Development and Labour Council] which demands a clear plan from government to change direction and plot a new growth path to change the structure of the economy and ensure redistribution of wealth, land, and create opportunity for all. It further demands that the crisis in the education system, health service, and public transport be fully addressed. This is what real ‘radical economic transformation’ means.
“There must be an immediate moratorium on any further use of GEPF funds by the PIC until the boards of these loss-making monoliths have been sacked and replaced by democratic and accountable representatives of the community, workers, and the country,” Saftu said.