There’s no doubt that this has been a tough year for Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, whose task of attracting investment and stimulating employment was made more difficult by unstable domestic and global economic conditions.
Davies found himself putting out fires as threats of a trade war and a protectionist global trade environment took its toll on emerging-market economies and domestic policy uncertainty about land expropriation and government’s weak financials scared off investors.
Davies, who is described as a skilled negotiator, got South Africa partial exemption from the steel tariffs imposed by the United States and made further representations for relief.
The optimism that Davies expressed about the recovery and growth of the country’s economy was short-lived when it went into a technical recession and the unemployment rate rose.
His critics say he has not been aggressive in countering the regression in the manufacturing sector and, after so many years at the helm, it appears as if he has let things slide. For one, many government departments and entities, who are the biggest purchasers in the country, were not compliant with local procurement requirements. Davies himself admitted that all the contracts fingered for corruption had favoured imports over localisation, a mechanism that could be used to drive demand and employment.
The auditor general has only now been asked to make findings about adherence to local procurement prescripts.
On the other hand, Davies’ supporters say the minister is a hard worker who is passionate about his portfolio and has consistently been able to secure investments. In 2017-2018 he brought in R84.4-billion in investments towards job creation, which is more than double his department’s R40-billion target.
He also unveiled the automotive masterplan programme that aims to increase local content in cars assembled in South Africa to 60% as well as the participation of black-owned companies in manufacturing the components.
Davies, who has been heading his department for close to a decade, received a clean audit this year. Of the 10 entities audited by the auditor general, seven had unqualified audit opinions. The department paid its creditors within 30 days.
Entities within the department that received qualified audits are concerning because they are responsible for ensuring that import and export products met the appropriate quality and safety standards. The National Regulator for Compulsory Standards received its fourth consecutive qualified audit and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) was issued a disclaimer by the auditor general, because there was insufficient evidence to provide a basis for an opinion.
Davies had to fire the SABS board and place the agency under administration after it was revealed that its testing standards had deteriorated and the entity was sitting with backlogs in issuing product certificates.