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Manuel ‘ready to carry on’

SOUTH African finance Minister Trevor Manuel hinted Wednesday that he may be willing to carry on serving in his post if asked to by the country’s new president, although he could not “carry on forever”.

He told business executives he would not have agreed to go on the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) list of parliamentary candidates if he was not prepared to serve in a new government after elections next week.

Manuel is fourth on the list of 100 nominees, which means he is likely to stay in Cabinet.

“You can’t do a job like Finance Minister forever and I think that’s a discussion that the incoming president can better answer,” he said in reply to a question on his future. “But I wouldn’t have agreed to go on the ANC list without indicating my preparedness to continue serving.”

Manuel first took his post in 1996 and has received much of the credit for the prudent economic policies that have won SA respect in global markets.

“The economy is holding up remarkably well. I’m not suggesting there won’t be job losses and I’m not suggesting the world economy has already touched bottom,” he said .

“I think we’ve still got a little way for the global economy to bottom out and we’re likely to be affected but there is actually no reason to panic.”

Most analysts expect the economy to contract this year for the first time since 1992, as global demand for local exports wanes and consumers in SA continue to rein in their spending.

But the dip is likely to be quite mild compared with what is happening in many other developed economies —- consensus forecasts are betting that SA’s output will shrink by less than 1%.

Manuel said the big challenge facing SA was to improve service delivery to the country’s poor, using existing financial resources and against a backdrop of scarce skills.

He emphasised the need to improve service delivery in both healthcare and education but said it was unlikely that the ANC would achieve its stated aim of putting a national health insurance scheme in place within five years.

Public health service was “lousy” but there were pockets of excellence, he said. Manuel laughed off a question on whether state utilities would remain owned by government.

“Does anyone want to buy an airline?” he said, referring to loss-making South African Airways. –– Business Day

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