Tito’s pot-luck budget speech

Wednesday.

It’s budget day.

For the nation, that is, if not for those of us who get our pittance later than the glorious 25th; payday for most South African wage slaves.

The National Breadwinner, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, is at the podium in Parliament, laying down the law as to who gets what — and who coughs up what — for the year ahead.

I’m already coughing, and not just figuratively in the financial sense. I’m hacking, literally, courtesy of the return of the weird lung condition that laid me low last month. I should be in bed, breathing shallowly while the medication does its job.

I’m not.

We’re light-handed and I’ve already had a week’s sick leave since returning from the December break, so I’ll have to keep on hacking away, literally and figuratively.

To tell the truth, I’ve been looking forward to this budget. I haven’t been expecting any particularly good news — as a nation we’re broke, so the Breadwinner doesn’t have much space to be nice to us — but it will give an indication as to which of the programmes outlined in the president’s State of the Nation address (Sona) government has money to implement and which will go on the back burner for another year.

The finance minister’s social media outings have been pointing subliminally towards a pretty austere budget. Lots of posts of his old, beat-up shoes and suits with stitched shoulder panels and late-night, self-cooked tinned-fish dinners. I’ve been hoping that the austerity measures will be applied to those in public office, the lahnees in national, provincial and local government, and not just to low-level civil servants and the ordinary punter in the street.

Perhaps the miraculous will happen and Tito might announce a salary freeze — or even cut — for the cats at the top of the state’s money pile.

Perhaps.

I’ve also been keen to hear what Tito has to say about the cannabis economy the head of state spoke about in his Sona and which the provincial premiers have been punting in their state of the province addresses earlier in the week.

The Breadwinner’s been talking up the herb on his Twitter and Facebook accounts in recent months in the build-up to both the Sona and his budget speech.

He’s clearly far ahead of his comrades in the ANC and his colleagues in Cabinet when it comes to the penny dropping in terms of the tax benefits of medicinal and recreational cannabis. The president and the premiers seem a little afraid to go all the way and publicly embrace the recreational side of cannabis, which is where the immediate tax rands can be found.

It’s a little early to expect much in the budget speech — there’s still no legal framework for cannabis trading, so Tito can’t really levy taxes on what’s still an illegal activity — but I’m hoping for some movement.

Back to the podium. Tito’s brought along an Aloe ferox. That’s a bad sign. It’s a pot plant, granted, but I’d been hoping he’d bring a real Pot Plant, some Girl Scout Cookies or something similarly tasty and commercially viable from his farm at Magoebaskloof, to symbolically show Parliament, and the rest of the nation, the way ahead.

Tito gets going.

The picture is bleak. There’s a R370.5-billion deficit for 2020-2021. There’s cuts in education and health and the allocations to the provinces. Tito’s comrades and their dodgy business bras have stolen all the money.

We are in deep shit.

There’s some good news.

No personal income tax increases; no VAT increase; the transfer duty on properties under R1-million is dropped. That’s a big relief. The last VAT increase, courtesy of Jacob Zuma and Malusi Gigaba, hurt, not just because it appears, in retrospect, to have been a pretty cynical act aimed at filling the kitty, not to balance the budget, but to increase the amount that could be looted.

There’s sin-tax increases. I’ve always been cool with that. I don’t drink much alcohol these days and I haven’t had a cigarette in nearly nine years, so it’s even more chilled. Tito’s also hit the vapers and the hubbly bubbly crowd. I’m waiting for him to peg the cannabis tax rate, get me back into the sin-tax paying fold.

He doesn’t.

Tito powers ahead. Subsistence and transport cuts for government; cellphone system cuts. Then he stops. No salary freeze for the big lahnees; no cut in the number of ministers, just a cut of R160-billion to the salary bill for working civil servants over the next three years.

This is a dumb move, demanding that the people who work for you take a salary cut — or give up their jobs — while those at the top carry on regardless, munching happily at the trough.

Another opportunity to do the right thing missed.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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