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Mboweni suggests agriculture to take lead for economic growth

Oct. 25, 2018 6 min read

Accountants asked to claim their space to restore fairness and answerability, to restore financial order and zero tolerance to corruption and financial fraud.

MASERU – Tito Mboweni’s observation is that agriculture is the major economic backbone of Africa but countries invest very little in it compared with other sectors of the economy. But while this may be a way forward, Mboweni sees many barriers towards economic growth, among them; heightening corruption practices, lack of cross checking for transparency and accountability, undermining of roles played by independent media and civic groups to ensure respect for democracy, and a culture of ageing leadership in the continent where larger population is youth.

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He did not mince words when it comes to state capture, labelling it as one of the "greatest heists of our times". An ‘exile kid’ who loves curry and fly-fishing, the former Reserve Bank Governor and now just appointed finance minister for South Africa, Tito Mboweni expressed this on October 18 as a keynote speaker while officiating Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA) 9th conference themed ‘Re-imagining business in Africa – a journey towards economic resilience’ which in a way celebrated the institute’s achievement since its establishment in 1977.

Mr Mboweni’s sentiments were echoed by Prime Minister Tom Thabane in his closing remarks: “The answer to a myriad of challenges that we face as a country today, such as, poor service delivery, non-accountable public sector, corruption, weak state institutions characterised by lack of strategy and direction, high levels of poverty, and many others, lies in re-imagining our business and economic policies with a view to building a resilient society. For me the theme of this conference is about Lesotho striving for fairness, equity, transparency, answerability and co-creation.”

Mr Mboweni asked accountants to be always on the alert, especially whenever they see big projects taking place as politicians have a habit of introducing them for certain private benefits. In order to realise the fruits of the theme of re-imagining business towards economic resilience, Mr Mboweni advises governments to avoid changing policies all the time because doing so renders those policies non-credible and it affects consistency and economic stability, which could pose a challenge to the responsibilities of accountants. Accountants were also advised to watch out for money laundering by Advocate Matla Dlamini who labelled it as a global phenomenon which undermines the economic and political stability of countries.

“Money laundering is not only a risk to the banking business, but it also contaminates legal and legitimate financial transactions,” he said. Prime Minister Thabane challenged the accountants: “I challenge you, therefore ladies and gentlemen of the accounting profession: go out and reclaim your profession; go out there and restore fairness; go out there and restore answerability; go out there and claim your space and place in restoring financial order and zero tolerance to corruption and financial fraud.”

According to Dr Thabane, it does not matter “whether you are in a private sector or public setting, you all have a responsibility to play a role in contributing to the overall stability and progress of your country. Keep us on our toes and help us to act ethically, even as you contribute to the uprooting of corruption. The accounting profession is about governance or decision making guided by fact.”

Mr Mboweni was appointed new finance minister by president Cyril Ramaphosa on October 16, replacing Nhlanhla Nene, who offered his resignation after it emerged he repeatedly met with the infamous Gupta family, contradicting previous statements. Mr Mboweni has spent many hours in Saxonwold - but not at the Gupta compound. Instead he reportedly regularly visited the Ditsong Museum of Military History in the Johannesburg suburb, poring over old photographs of the South African Native Labour Corps, trying to find a photo of his grandfather. His grandfather passed away when the SS Mendi sank in 1917.

“These soldiers who went to war without being able to carry weapons because the white government didn’t trust them is a very telling chapter in our unjust history,” Mr Mboweni once told Independent Media. Mr Mboweni was born the youngest of three children on March 16, 1959 in the "beautiful and dusty village" of Bordeaux near Tzaneen. He attended the University of the North between 1979 and 1980, where he registered for a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

But, before completing his degree, he left South Africa to go into exile in 1980. While in exile, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and political science from the National University of Lesotho and in 1988 he obtained a Master of Arts degree in Development Economics from the University of East Anglia in England. "I suppose you can call me an exile kid, and international kid born in South Africa but my home is in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, the United Kingdom, Zambia, Angola, Tanzania, Swaziland, the USA, Switzerland and everywhere I stayed in my youth. I hate narrow nationalism, cannot stand it. I hate xenophobia," he once said in a speech.

Mr Mboweni said he was “gatvol” with South Africa’s “xenophobic police” after his son Tumelo was arrested in Sandton in 2013 for allegedly being “too dark”. Tumelo, then 23, was travelling in a taxi when it was stopped at a police roadblock and he was asked to show his passport. “You’re a foreigner here and as you don’t have a passport, we’re going to deport you. You’re under arrest,” Tumelo told City Press the officer told him.

After a friend fetched his passport, Mr Mboweni's son was released from custody. At the age of 39, Mr Mboweni replaced Chris Stals as SARB governor on July 4, 1998 – the rand promptly lost 5.3% in reaction, falling to a record low against the dollar. (In contrast, this time around the rand bounced back from R15/$ to reach R14.67 in reaction to Mr Mboweni's appointment. Mr Mboweni earned global respect during his ten years as head of the central bank. He was named central bank governor of the year by European financial magazine Euro Money in 2001. The publication credited Mr Mboweni for defending the value of the rand, and bringing inflation down from 9% to 6.1%.

When former president Jacob Zuma basically forced Mr Mboweni out of his job at the Reserve Bank, some in the ANC welcomed the move. Mr Mboweni, and his larger-than-life personality, was not universally liked. Some parts of the ANC also went chilly on Mr Mboweni after a perceived flirtation with Cope – and headlines such as “Mboweni might lead Cope” in the Sunday Times in late 2008.

Mr Mboweni was accused of copying Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) policy when he called on the state to own 40% of all mining companies and the creation of a sovereign wealth fund for future generations and the creation of a state bank. At the time he also penned a prayer‚ asking God to “open the eyes and ears of our leaders”. Mr Mboweni is an avid fly-fisherman, and has encouraged black South Africans to take up the sport.

Last year, rapper Cassper Nyovest released the massive hit entitled "Tito Mboweni". The song is about money, featuring flashy cars, private planes and models rolling around in bank notes. The former Reserve Bank governor was the first black man to have his signature on South African bank notes. According to Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) records, Mr Mboweni is currently an active director of a number of Discovery companies, Nampak, and the Accelerate Property Fund, which owns Fourways Mall Shopping Centre and other large buildings. He is also founder of the investment firm Mboweni Brothers Capital.

Additional reporting by agencies

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