SALDRU Welcomes Former Treasury DDG, Andrew Donaldson

Image: Andrew Donaldson / SALDRU

SALDRU welcomes Andrew Donaldson, former Deputy Director General at the National Treasury, who joins us on a part-time basis as a senior researcher.

Donaldson is not new to academia. He taught economics in the 80’s and early 90’s at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University) and at Rhodes University, where he first met SALDRU’s director, Murray Leibbrandt.

In 1993, he moved to the Department of Finance in Pretoria (which later merged with the State Expenditure Department to become National Treasury), leading to a 24-year career as a public servant.

From 2001, Donaldson served as head of the Treasury’s budget office and public finance divisions, and he was also the initial head of the Government Technical Advisory Centre (GTAC), established by the Treasury in 2013. He looks back on 20 years of close engagement with producing South Africa’s national budget, which he describes as, “an extraordinary career experience and a wonderful way of learning about public finance, in practice”.

Donaldson always felt that he would return to research and teaching at some stage. At this present juncture, he finds himself reflecting on the things he learned “at the heart of government and the heart of budget-making”, as he writes about and lectures in public finance and public economics.

Donaldson’s work at SALDRU takes on some of the activities of the Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth (REDI3x3), an initiative funded by the Treasury and based at SALDRU. In his former role at GTAC, Donaldson was responsible for initiating the research project and the Jobs Fund with which it is associated. He is looking forward to greater involvement in actual research and exploring its policy implications. He will also be involved in the Mandela Initiative, currently hosted in SALDRU by UCT’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative.

Looking back over his career in public service, Donaldson contends, “Some things we did well – South Africa’s budget processes and documentation are world class. But there are many areas of public policy and coordination between departments in which we should have done better. Employment promotion remains a huge challenge. There are difficult social policy and income security problems not just in South Africa, but all over the world. We are much more conscious of inequality and its challenges now, but it is far from clear what should be done to shift the trend.”

Donaldson’s interests are wide-ranging: government spending programmes, the structure of the tax system, how the broader economy works and most importantly, the interaction between the role of government and private sector activities or what operates through markets. He is also interested in how cities develop as well as the linkages between rural development and urban progress.

He sums up the public policy challenge as, “The things that change people’s lives for the better over the long term, not just because they are government programmes, but also because of the response of investors and enterprises and households to the social and economic environment”.

In many ways, this is what Donaldson’s work at SALDRU, REDI3x3 and the Mandela Initiative will be about, and we can look forward to a series of working papers from him.