African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe wants the government to be "given the space to do its work", warning that challenges to projects already funded could damage SA’s creditworthiness and cripple delivery.
There are concerns that delays in the implementation of government decisions such as Gauteng’s e-tolls and the youth subsidy could dent SA’s credit rating, making it difficult for the country and state-owned enterprises to raise funds on the international market.
SA is pursuing a big infrastructure and energy investment drive that partly relies on international loans and foreign investment, which could be jeopardised by citizens and their organisations taking issue with the government’s economic decisions.
Disagreements in the ruling alliance about economic policy have been at the centre of recent delays, with powerful trade unions blocking the implementation of the youth subsidy and the e-tolls.
Moody’s Investors Service, which put SA under negative watch last year, warned last week the delayed implementation of the toll system was a "perfect" example of how popular pressure could force changes in policy.
The ratings agency downgraded the South African National Roads Agency in March due to uncertainty over repayment of the state-guaranteed R20-billion loan used to upgrade Gauteng’s highways.
Mr Mantashe said yesterday the downgrade could have far-reaching consequences, as questions would be asked about other public institutions and their capacity to raise funds.
"Once they are downgraded, they will raise money more expensively and delivery will be slower. That is the ultimate end," he told reporters at a briefing on the ANC’s national executive committee meeting at the weekend. The Cabinet’s decision to appeal against a court interdict blocking the start of the e-tolls this month was backed by the ANC’s leaders at the weekend, he said.
Mr Mantashe said the Treasury, which last year allocated R5-billion for a trial youth wage subsidy, should be given room to operate. "Give it space to run the finances of the country because it is running them well. If you tamper with their capacity to run in that space, the ability of the economy to do certain things is going to be tampered with and when that happens down the line we will not be connecting the dots," he said.
Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane supported Mr Mantashe’s call. "We are fully in support of the ANC secretary-general’s comments and we call on all South Africans to heed them," he said.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), an ally of the ANC, was at the forefront of a campaign that led to e-tolling being temporarily frozen, before a civil society group obtained an interdict stopping it.
Mr Mantashe said bilateral discussions between Cosatu and the ANC over the e-tolls and the youth subsidy were now escalated to the tripartite alliance level, with the South African Communist Party roped into the talks.
He said there was a tendency for parties to get bogged down in definitions of terms, such as "decent work" versus "more jobs", which ultimately delayed employment creation.
He said the "preoccupation" with terms and their definitions, instead of the interventions and their objectives, hindered movement on jobs.
Broadening the debate to all the alliance structures would transform it from a "narrow debate on wage subsidy", to looking at the required interventions for rapid youth employment, Mr Mantashe said.