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Sovereign rating time after budget and SONA

SONA and Budget 2013/4 beat the pundits…   

zuma2With budget behind us, the script for the state of nation address (SONA) becomes a little clearer.

At the time SONA wasn’t what was expected and represented to many a total let down insofar as direction, information and inspiration was concerned.   President Zuma’s speech was really quite remarkable for the subjects it didn’t touch upon or skirted around.   Perhaps that’s what happens when a majority party is half way through its current tenure of office.

In all fairness, however, there is so much that is about to happen in South Africa on infrastructure development and so much “in the pipeline”, that there was little the current government could do other than recycle the list of eighteen major projects that the twenty seven government departments and sixteen utilities having been talking about for months, sometimes years, all of which seem in a pretty embryonic stage. The hope is that when it all comes together, it won’t be too late.

NERSA played a trump card

On energy, little was said – in fact practically nothing at all that was not patently obvious such as the fact that Medupi and Kusile are being built. In fact nothing was said on electricity at all, the reason for which was to become evident in the NERSA decision the following week when Eskom’s multi year price determination call of 16% was toned down to 8%.

Dangerous budget

pravon gordhanAlso the following week and following SONA came Pravin Gordhan’s budget with its surprising nil increase on income tax, severe budget cuts, the introduction of carbon tax and an increased fuel levy. Once again the National Development Plan was heavily emphasised and perhaps at last government is going to get on with it with a new presidential infrastructure co-ordination commission to support the initiative.

The Budget was in some ways masterful but still frightens the credit rating agencies, with Gordhan trying to balance the books after an increased deficit over the previous year, something the new government used to pride itself on not needing under finance minister Trevor Manuel – but times change and the global recession arrived.

Executive powers

Interesting for Parliament is the introduction of the draft Infrastructure Development Bill giving extraordinarily wide powers to an all-powerful commission to be known as the presidential infrastructure co-ordination commission, as stated above, with all nine premiers, the President and Deputy President steering the ship in an effort to cut red tape and speed things up.

This can only be good, if only for the fact that the captain of the ship can speak alone to the twenty seven departments and sixteen utilities described above.

Public Service too big

Which leads to the issue of a somewhat bloated public service which has had the benefit of above-inflation increases this year, so it was pleasing to see that a skills audit of public servants is about to be commenced amongst the 1.2m public servants, which in a country of only 51m, is totally disproportionate.

Public Service and administration minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Parliament that the increase of 1% per year in salaries has to be turned into a decrease of 1% next year.

Encouragingly also, planning minister Trevor Manuel (who has but ten staff) has clearly indicated that he is relying on the parliamentary oversight system to beef up his programme to wake up to the National Development Plan.  How well Parliament scrutinizes the national budget in the coming weeks in every parliamentary portfolio committee demanding both value for money and delivery on time, every time, is now the critical issue.

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