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GOVERNMENT spending has spiralled out of control. Like a reckless gambler who is now in need of debt counselling, Minister of Finance Martin Dlamini has cried out for serious help to save our economy from collapse.

In his Mid-Year Budget Review Report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, Dlamini submitted an admission of guilt on behalf of Cabinet that details how it has failed to do its job resulting in the country drowning in over E2.5 billion debt among other fiscal challenges.

He says he now needs a group of people to tell him what to do to get out of this situation. He admits that he has driven the wage bill to unsustainable levels and that he and his colleagues have been unable to control spending towards government cars and the maintenance of this fleet at the Central Transport Administration over and above failing to pay service providers.
While they prepare to tell him the obvious, he will be taxing the rest of us to the bone with increases in user fees from all fronts. Typical of this Cabinet!

This is a group of politicians that has a phobia for good advice so what guarantee do we have they will listen this time around? They have been warned for decades against increasing the wage bill without success. Today it has reached crisis proportions that could see civil servants go without salaries for months if a cost of living adjustment were to be effected. His solution to the self-inflicted crisis is to have an Arrears Management Committee put in place to devise a strategy on how to clear the over E2.5 billion arrears. A typical government response that has seen layers and layers of committees appointed to duplicate the work of people hired for it.

The minister said Cabinet was yet to put together a Fiscal Consolidation Plan that would, among other things, help the country regain its macroeconomic and fiscal stability over the medium term. In other words, to help us get out of ‘junk status’ following our credit rating. He said this plan should cause government to cut its coat to suit according to the size of its cloth.

In his own words; “We cannot go forward with a budget that does not have adequate financing. I therefore propose a budget outlay that is fully financeable in the next financial year.”  We are back to the past where we have been cajoled into believing belt tightening and fiscal prudence measures were underway to avoid the shocks of the 2008-2011 global financial crisis. Where are we today?

Dlamini has also placed his hopes on the passing of the Public Finance Management Act of 2017 which, he says, will enhance efforts to promote efficiency, accountability and fiscal discipline in compliance with international standards for public finance management. He talks of targeting tight implementation timelines and urges his colleagues across all line ministries to persevere.

He doesn’t fool us. Government is littered with legislation and policies designed to do the same thing yet the Auditor General continuously finds a very high rate in the flouting of these controls by the controlling officers every year. Recent reports reveal that E3 billion remained unaccounted for by the close of the audit period. So who will enforce the new Act any better than the existing ones because they will be given to the same controlling officers that go unpunished? It’s all a circus. 

On SACU the minister, once again, warns that the country repayments to the pool are set to increase for the next financial year and therefore our fiscal position is not set to improve unless we diversify our domestic revenue through the passage of key reforms. The new SACU sharing formula is also set to bring about a reduced allocation to the kingdom as a result of a portion of the receipts being used to fund cross border projects.

We have known this for decades but he is still talking about the need to diversify our revenue base. When will we get down to doing this Mr Minister? The agriculture sector remains the most viable option of diversifying our resource base given the potential that agro-processing has in various sectors such as sugar, wood-pulp, citrus fruit, meat, etc. It is disheartening, however, that initiatives like the input subsidy programme seem to be failing yet this was a great opportunity to empower the farmers and their families while enhancing our food sufficiency that would ultimately boost our economic growth.

It would appear that the minister was simply fulfilling an obligation to present the Mid-year Budget review report, not to present tangible solutions that breed confidence in what lies ahead of us.

We would be naive to think that the current situation can be fixed in the less than six months left in office for this Cabinet. Clearly they want to pass the buck for their failures and the arrears committee is being lined up as the perfect scapegoats.

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