Opposition parties in Parliament have described Finance Minister’s Tito Mboweni’s budget on Wednesday as an election speech meant to prop up the ANC’s case for the upcoming elections.
The finance minister delivered his maiden budget speech in the National Assembly, focusing mainly on plans to fix state-owned enterprises, with Eskom in particular being a priority.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane described the budget speech as a “lipstick budget” with little substance.
“Instead of taking bold action on Eskom, we’ve allocated more on bailouts. Even though you can talk more about Education, he’s taken more away from provinces with competencies to deliver… He made it look pretty on the outside, but frankly it’s dealt with nothing,” Maimane said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema says the minister’s speech was flat and offered nothing to South Africans.
“He just repeated everything he said in the past. No clear plans on job creations. No clear plans on what’s going to happen to land expropriation. He did not reduce VAT to 14% [introduced by his predecessor Malusi Gigaba in 2018], and it’s very clear the minister doesn’t know how to take South Africa out of this difficult challenges,” Malema said.
Mosiuoa Lekota — leader of the Congress of the People party — was more conciliatory, admitting that Mboweni was fighting out of a corner to help South Africa out of the economic doldrums.
“Tito Mboweni did something here that’s good. For a long time we’ve been saying we have a huge bureaucracy that’s just been consuming huge amounts of money. And he has touched that nerve. We hope the President will follow up on that.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa has for some time promised a trimmer and more efficient administration. With plans afoot after the May elections to slash the number of government departments, and to collapse certain state agencies into one another.
During his State of the Nation address (Sona) two weeks ago, the president said plans are underway to shrink the size of government departments.
“We have made progress in examining the size and structure of the State, and will complete this work by the end of this administration. We invite all South Africans to make suggestions on how we can better configure government to serve the needs and the interests of the people,” Ramaphosa said.
The most stinging political reaction came possibly from those closely connected to Mboweni’s ANC itself.
ANC-led alliance partner Cosatu said Mboweni failed to “rise to the occasion”, of the 2019 budget.
The trade union federation is still smarting from announcements by Ramaphosa that Eskom will be unbundled and split into three separate business entities — generation, transmission, and distribution.
In a statement, Cosatu said government needed to reassure workers that Eskom and other state-owned enterprises will not be privatised nor will workers be retrenched.
In his response to the Sona debate, Ramaphosa told MPs that plans to unbundle Eskom does not equate to privatising the parastatal.
A battle between Cosatu and government looms after Mboweni announced in his budget speech that the current public sector wage bill is unsustainable, adding that a restructuring of civil servants will commence with offers for early retirement to older government employees.
Cosatu says it would do everything in its power to fight job losses and protect the poor and working class.
“There is no clear strategy to help stimulate growth and regenerate our economy. This will leave more people isolated from the mainstream economy and still dependent on the government for their survival. The survivalist informal economy that feeds and clothes many families has again been abandoned in this underwhelming budget,” the trade union federation concluded.