One can only guess at what President Jacob Zuma’s “most qualified finance minister” ever, the four-day wonder Des van Rooyen, may have said had he been the man giving yesterday’s mini budget. We can now only guess.
Fortunately (in most people’s opinion, that is) it was Pravin Gordhan at the podium and it was clear Treasury is still an institution that can be taken seriously and tells it as it is. There’s much to be concerned about, but there’s also cause for optimism.
As many commentators have pointed out over recent years, a lot of South Africa’s economic turmoil has been self-inflicted. Gordhan is doing the best he can in the face of a ruling party pulling in several directions at once.
The bottom line is we are spending far too much money on far too many civil servants who give us too little value. It means we’re left with too little for the things the average person really cares about: service delivery, infrastructure, job creation (and not of the civil service kind), decent education, housing, policing, healthcare … the list is endless, while the money is not.
For us to have a deficit of R2 trillion and to be spending billions more than we can repay from the taxes we collect is madness. Former president Thabo Mbeki may have had many flaws but he treated the economy relatively sanely and managed to bring the deficit down year-on-year when he was ripped from his post. What has followed is several years of Zumanomics, a period of government getting bloated, with the scraps left for the rest of society.
The pressure this has placed on funding tertiary education is but one flash point in our society; there are many more. That this same government has been pushing hard for an expensive nuclear programme is tantamount to Zuma telling us he would like SA to be one of the big funders of Obama’s mission to put humans on Mars.
Gordhan may well have spoken off the cuff about the nuclear procurement programme in the speech he delivered, but it’s clear Treasury has no genuine interest in “investing” in expensive nuclear power that we really don’t need.
Not one page was written about it in the mini budget.
Without the deal, this country has a chance to follow the hopeful path Gordhan envisions. There are no prizes for guessing how many pages of the budget may have been devoted to the glories of nuclear power had Van Rooyen been at the podium.