Johannesburg: Transnet CEO Brian Molefe and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba yesterday poured ice on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s suggestion in his budget speech on Wednesday that the private sector should play a greater role in infrastructure financing and management.
The role of parastatals, and the long-term financing of infrastructure development, are expected to be discussed at the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) policy conference later this year. A discussion paper on the role of state-owned enterprises, and how development finance institutions can be used to speed up infrastructure development, will be tabled at the ANC’s national executive committee meeting on Monday, a party official said.
Mr Molefe said Transnet did not envisage a role for the private sector in managing the main channels of rail infrastructure that will be built over the next seven years. However, he said, Transnet intended granting private sector concessions on its branch lines or "noncore network".
"Our main channels require R300bn to be developed and we are going to put up the money and develop them," he said on the sidelines of the Macquarie First South Securities conference on infrastructure in Cape Town.
"Part of the problem is that we require these assets on our balance sheet because borrowers would like to see us retain them while they have lent us money. Some of these policy discussions are quite dangerous because the moment you are seen to be removing assets from your balance sheet, they (will) lend you less than they would have before."
Mr Molefe also largely ruled out the concessioning or private management of ports. "We want to run our ports as a complementary system. They are not going to compete with each other.
"For example, Saldanha will be a bulk iron-ore port. We don’t expect it to compete with Cape Town or Coega. Coega will be mainly a manganese and trans-shipment port. Durban will service Gauteng with containers. Richards Bay does coal."
Mr Gigaba, who also addressed the Macquarie conference, said that the debate on whether ports should be concessioned had not been settled yet in government.
"Port concessions are on the table, but there is no agreement. There is agreement on concessioning Transnet’s branch rail lines. On the rest of the rail side, there is no need to interfere with what is working well," he said.
He believed there was scope to "improve efficiency and reduce costs within Transnet" — which would render concessions unnecessary, Mr Gigaba said. He told the conference several models were under consideration for funding the government’s infrastructure programme.
Eskom and Transnet were "sitting well" to fund their capital expenditure programmes using their own balance sheets. But the harder question to answer was where the funding for dams and roads would be found, he said.
The presidential review committee on state-owned enterprises, established in May 2010, would soon make suggestions on the shape and size of state-owned enterprises, including whether any should be privatised.
"I don’t want to be locked into an ideological debate about privatisation. That debate didn’t serve SA very well in 2000 to 2001 as it led to a lot of protests and strikes," Mr Gigaba said.
"We are in the process of making up our minds. In some instances it could be possible to give some equity in these institutions to the state’s development finance institutions, such as the Industrial Development Corporation."