South Africa's FinMin declines to comment on ANC backing

by Stella Mapenzauswa, Reuters 0

S.Africa's FinMin Gordhan sees difficult political year for ruling party

South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan declined on Thursday to say whether he was confident of the political support of the ruling ANC, less than a week before he must answer fraud charges in court.

Gordhan said he had tried not to let the case distract him while preparing a mid-term budget presented to parliament on Wednesday.

Gordhan is accused of fraudulently approving, in a previous stint as head of the revenue service, early retirement for a deputy tax commissioner and re-hiring him as a consultant, costing the tax agency 1.1 million rand ($79,000).

He has denied any wrong-doing, saying the case is politically motivated, a sentiment echoed by opposition parties, business leaders and some senior ANC figures. The state prosecutor has rejected allegations of political interference.

Asked during a post-budget breakfast meeting whether he was still confident he had political backing, Gordhan said: “I’m not trying to duck, but I’m not going to answer it.”

Gordhan, who on Wednesday slashed growth forecasts for the next three years and predicted wider budget deficits than previously expected, said he was not preoccupied with whether he had done enough to stave off credit rating downgrades.

“Our preoccupation is not rating agencies. Our preoccupation is putting the country on the right footing,” Gordhan said.

“If we build confidence to the point where we get investment going … everybody including ratings agencies will believe that we as a government are doing the right thing,” he said.