The trimming of President Jacob Zuma’s “bloated” Cabinet may be “symbolic” and a good place to start in cost-cutting, given the current economic climate – but a fundamental difference could only be made by unearthing deep-rooted, wasteful expenditure in government. This is according to analysts who have agreed that while the cutting down of 35 ministries would be welcomed, it is not enough to make a significant dent in improving the economy.
This after the DA’s proposal that government ministries are cut from 35 to 15, bringing about savings estimated at R4.7 billion. The Cabinet under Zuma is the biggest since the onset of democracy in South Africa. “Of course there is the financial benefits that come from a shrunk Cabinet. Reduced ministries will be welcome,” said Goolam Ballim, chief economist at Standard Bank.
“But it won’t make a material dent in containing overarching budget risks.” However, there is room for a smaller Cabinet to facilitate greater policy cohesion, he said. “Numerous ministries sometimes focus on discreet areas but instead contribute in some part to policy ambiguity and overarching discord,” Ballim said.
“We are functioning at a time where we are facing the prospects of a downgrade – every rand of inefficiency that is quarterised is dearly welcomed.” But political analyst Daniel Silke said there would only be a symbolic effect from trimming the Cabinet. The real savings would be to tackle head-on fundamental issues of patronage, cronyism, corruption and the abuse of tender systems, he said.
“It would give some indication that government is serious about cost-cutting but the the issue of cutting back must be scrutinised.” South Africans have seen a bloated Cabinet in recent years, but at the heart of cut-backs and wasteful expenditure are deeperrooted issues, Silke said. Zuma ring-fenced himself by those who supported his presidency and have in effect benefitted monetarily, which Silke dubbed as “big man politics”.
“I think the Zuma presidency based itself on extending its network of influence, demanding more authority with linkages. We have seen the characters – people who have supported his presidency have benefitted – and there’s the Guptas’ influence of prominent families who provide him with a degree of power and insulate him.
“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Silke said comparing Cabinet to those in other countries was “good politics” for the opposition. “I won’t really measure one country by another. That is of lesser importance than the fundamental issues.”
Economist Dawie Roodt said in his opinion the comparison could be made. “We can compare ourselves with them because there are key ministries (in other countries).” This included ministries for finance, defence, policing arguably a ministry for the judiciary.
“And then you have a ministry for social expenditure. This is where departments, such as health and education, falls under one umbrella.” It was not the number of ministries which mattered but the efficiency of the state, Roodt said. There are civil servants in South Africa who are overpaid and underworked, he said.