PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP
PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
National Assembly: 23 May 2018
His Excellency the President; Honourable Speaker; Honourable Members –
Over the next three years, the Presidency’s budget will need to be cut by close to R30-million. Indeed, budget cuts are the common refrain throughout all departments. As the Director General of National Treasury explained, “The focus of the 2018 Budget has solely been on the reprioritisation of existing baseline funding.” In other words, trying to figure out which programmes can be dumped.
National Treasury has given us some frightening figures. Within the next four years, gross national debt is expected to exceed 60% of our Gross Domestic Product. Right now, South Africa’s debt stands at over 44% of the GDP. In a country of 54 and a half million people, that’s a debt per citizen of R35 823. Our children are being born with a debt burden that we cannot pay.
According to the Presidency’s Annual Performance Plan, if we are to stabilise debt below 60% of GDP in the next decade, we will need to implement spending cuts, or tax hikes, of around R40-billion.
But how do you cut R40-billion of expenditure without affecting job creation? Or without cutting social benefits? Or neglecting critical programmes?
Where will the Presidency make cuts? Laudably, the appointment of consultants will be reduced. Deals will be negotiated with service providers. There will be less spending on employee bursaries and on corporate branded clothing for employees’ personal use.
When it comes to Significant Spending Items, the intention is to slow the average growth rate of expenditure over the next few years. Indeed, in the medium-term, Communication will actually have a negative growth rate. And where expenditure on Computer Services grew at over 40% in the last three years, in the next three years it will grow by just half a percent.
Nevertheless, Computer Services will now take up more than 24% of the total budget for Goods and Services. Why?
Well, it’s impossible to know; because once again we have not had the privilege of interrogating this Budget in an oversight committee. That would have allowed us to pose such questions to the Director General before coming to this House.
As I have said many times before, this is neither fair on the President nor conducive to our work as Members of Parliament.
Honourable Speaker, considering the number of Constitutional Court rulings on the centrality of parliamentary oversight, we cannot afford to keep ignoring this shortcoming. It must be finalised in the Rules Committee so that the officials in the Presidency can be interrogated by an oversight committee, like any other government officials.
That would allow us to ask how the first 100 interns are doing in the Youth Employment Service Initiative; and whether the other 6 million unemployed youth can dare to hope. It would allow us to ask whether an assessment has been done of all the legal costs accumulated under the former President.
We could also ask whether the cost-saving measures to curb travel and subsistence expenditure are really effective.
Travel and subsistence eats up a biggest part of the Goods and Services budget. Indeed it is the only Significant Spending Item that is out of sync with the trend of slowed down spending. It just keeps growing.
The new cost-saving measures suggest how far things went in the wrong direction. They include Business Class tickets only being purchased for qualifying officials, accommodation and subsistence expenditure being limited to maximum allowable rates, and the utilisation of negotiated discounted airfares.
It sounds as though the bare minimum is only being done now.
Your Excellency, I appreciate the efforts being made by the Presidency, and by all Government Departments, to curb unnecessary expenditure. My only caution is that, when belts are further tightened, as they will need to be, we are careful to sacrifice the frills, rather than the substance.
With that caution, the IFP supports this Budget.