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New bid to revive listless economy

| Economic factors

Five fresh measures to deal with the economy were announced by the government and business leaders. They will include R180bn investment in energy in the next three years.

A joint public and private sector small-business fund on a 50-50 basis was another of the main measures. Already, the private sector has pledged about R1.6bn to the fund.

Initiatives include scaling up investment by using lessons learnt from independent power producers programme for renewable energy. This model would be extended to gas and coal.

Co-investment by the private sector in investment in infrastructure and the strengthening of crisis-ridden state entities were other measures agreed to by business-government working groups set up in February to tackle the slowdown in the economy.

A credit rating working stream will meet to identify potential areas of reform and other interventions to avert a credit downgrade next month.

"We will work to reduce policy uncertainty and shore up the confidence in government’s ability to deliver on its promises of boosting growth," said President Jacob Zuma after the meeting in Pretoria.

The possibility of private sector involvement in state-owned entities was agreed to even after Mr Zuma on Friday said South African Airlines was not for sale. The cash-strapped airline is seen as natural for private investment.

Part of the package announced last night was the appointment of "service providers" to help "consolidate airline businesses".

In response to questions about Mr Zuma’s comments, Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa said the government was looking at various models to look at how the private sector could "participate in some way" as they had a "great deal to offer".

A framework for state-owned companies is set to be developed and "principles of disposal of nonstrategic assets" were "under development", he said.

The government would also develop "economic regulators" to improve certainty, increase efficiency and healthy competition, such as a single transport economic regulator. "Appropriate mechanisms to strengthen state-owned entities will be developed so that we reduce the risk they pose for the fiscus and can play a stronger role in driving development," Mr Zuma said.

The meeting came after ratings agency Moody’s, gave SA a reprieve late on Friday night.

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) will be in the country from 16th May2016, when government and its business and labour partners will again have to show that the country is up to the task of reviving a moribund economy.

Fitch is set to conduct its probe in the coming weeks. Both S&P and Fitch, which rate SA just one notch above subinvestment grade, will release their reviews of SA’s credit ratings early next month.

It is understood that the plans by the business-government working groups contributed to the positive outcome last week in the Moody’s review.

Closer co-operation between the government and business was made necessary after the fallout from the unexpected firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told a public finance management conference in Johannesburg that he was "optimistic" the team effort by the government, business and labour had helped SA avoid a ratings downgrade by Moody’s.

Although he acknowledged that SA was among countries that had not yet recovered adequately from the 2008 global financial crisis and that its structural challenges including education, were also weighing on economic growth, he expressed optimism.

"I’m very optimistic that the Team SA approach is one that we can extend to the next two ratings agencies that are going to come and have a look at our economy and our management of the economy — and in particular, the interaction between labour, government, and business," he said.

With Ntsakisi Maswanganyi

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