February 20, 2018 / 6:46 AM / 6 months ago

South Africa's Ramaphosa to screen officials' lifestyles as he picks government

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa, acting on a pledge to fight corruption, said on Tuesday he planned to screen the lifestyles of future government officials as he mulled the make-up of a new cabinet.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Ruvan Boshoff/Pool

Ramaphosa, who was sworn in on Thursday after his scandal-plagued predecessor, Jacob Zuma, reluctantly resigned, told parliament he was working on a new government team and would announce changes at a later date.

It was not clear whether this heralded a purge of Zuma cronies from the cabinet.

Speculation though mounted about whether Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba would keep his job - something of interest for investors eying fresh opportunity with Zuma’s departure - though Gigaba was slated to deliver a key budget speech on Wednesday.

Zuma resigned on orders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) after nine years in office blighted by corruption, economic mismanagement and disputed appointments which have badly hurt Africa’s most industrialised economy.

As part of his pledge last Friday to “turn the tide of corruption” in public life, Ramaphosa told parliament he would launch “lifestyle audits” of public representatives - background checks on whether officials were living lavishly beyond their normal means.

NO LAND “SMASH AND GRAB”

Repeating his message on land, Ramaphosa said he would not allow “smash and grab” moves when undertaking land expropriation without compensation - a policy he has promised to speed up the transfer of land to black people.

Two decades after the end of apartheid, the ANC is under pressure to redress racial disparities in land ownership where whites own most of the land.

“We will handle it with responsibility. We will handle it in a way that will not damage our economy, that is not going to damage agricultural production,” he told parliament, referring to expropriation of land without compensation.

At a separate event in Cape Town, Gigaba declined to comment when asked by reporters about his future.

However, his deputy Sfiso Buthelezi, who sat next to his boss, was adamant Gigaba would deliver the budget on Wednesday.

“There is a budget that is going to be presented tomorrow and it is going to be presented by nobody else but Malusi Gigaba,” Buthelezi said.

Gigaba, speaking before Ramaphosa delivered his maiden state of the nation address on Friday, said he served at the pleasure of the president who had the prerogative to both “appoint and disappoint” ministers.

The finance ministry is expected to spell out “tough decisions” in the budget to plug a revenue gap and narrow the deficit, providing an early look at Ramaphosa’s plans for the troubled economy which faces a 50.8 billion rand revenue gap in 2017/18 fiscal year.

Tax hikes, including higher value added tax (VAT), may be announced to help plug the shortfall, analysts say.

Additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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