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A BIG YAWN!

By Alec Lushaba | 2018-03-03

As a country we cannot afford to continue to do things in the way we have been accustomed to for years and hope to get a better or different result.

After reading the Finance Minister Martin Gobizandla Dlamini’s budget speech I was left disappointed. I have argued for some time now that we have a serious problem at the top, be it on the public or private sector. The sickness is the same.

We seriously lack people who are going to transform the King’s Vision into some tangible outcomes that are purposed at transforming lives and ensure that the country is truly on the path to prosperity.

We have instead in government and in business people who are apologists. These are people who will do nothing that would upset their masters in Pretoria or Cape Town.

His Majesty the King in his Speech from the Throne challenged government and industry to venture into multi-billion Emalangeni projects that would set the country on the growth path.

I am disappointed to note that reading the finance minister’s speech, which of course is representative of the thinking of the entire cabinet; I was not given anything to hold on to.

What they did, was to repeat the mistakes of their masters in Pretoria to increase Value Added Tax (VAT) not because it was a necessity for us, but because we needed to conform to some Sekulula Refund arrangement.

If you are independent in your thinking and have the interest of the country at heart, you don’t just do things for purposes of conforming, because increasing VAT is not a conformity issue but a real life situation.

If you increase VAT you mean that certain goods and services which are normally accessible to ordinary members of the society, in particular the poor, will no longer be available.

If we had applied our minds before taking this decision, this budget would have been clear on how we plan to meet the poor halfway.

Grants

That 86 000 will be accommodated under the social grants does not help their situation because their grants remain as they were last year.

All other good projects by government aimed at improving lives are undermined by this increase. Take for instance the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme, which has remained unchanged since inception. Increase in fuel levy, VAT, taxing electricity, levy on bank revenues and income tax order reviews will erode any benefit and in fact makes life worse for those targeted beneficiaries.

Worse still, the minister revealed plans to reduce the public service in order to manage the ballooning wage bill.

Unless this is a serious cabinet position I don’t anticipate much movement in that respect. A good sign in that direction would be the reduction of government ministries and aligning them accordingly and that can only happen in October with the new prime minister coming. Otherwise, the current crop don’t have the credibility to effect changes in that respect.

Here is what the minister should have said - announcing that some public enterprises will be privatised, especially those that don’t offer basic services.

If selling them outright is a no no government should be looking at selling some stake to strategic partners with the view to generate the necessary  resources to support this budget.

We have, outdated or not,  a Privatisation Policy that we developed some years back which can inform us what we need to do and how.

Further, it has been proven that government can no longer continue to be the only one charged with the responsibility of developing the country. We need to share the responsibility by inviting partners to merge with us in the delivery of some projects.

The International Convention Centre and Five Star Hotel (ICCFISH) is one example of a project that needs a strategic partner.

Similarly therefore, the development of the Sidvokodvo Industrial Estate cannot be a government assignment alone. We need partners or in fact the investors must put in some money as well.

Kantsi how do we plan to take advantage of the Special Economic Zones if we don’t encourage the investors who will be paying no company tax for 25 years, to set the industries for themselves or pay half the setting up costs.

Talking of the upcoming industrial estate, there is nothing new about it. The 84 000 jobs they will bring, we were told last year, so this year we needed to be told how far are we and when can we expect to see it operational.

Funding

Similarly, the 2 300 odd jobs from railway link is an old story. We need to be told if we have secured funding for it and when should we expect the line to be completed from Lockiel to Sidvokodvo.

I was further disappointed not to get more details on the Youth Empowerment Fund.

I read the bit about the Loan Guarantee Scheme and the need to align it with the Graduate Enterprise Programme, but still we have youth that exists outside those programmes that need support.

Maybe the budget is a reflection of the age gap between those in government and the King.

They are no longer able to process the demands and vision of the King - probably due to fatigue. We are happy that this year gives us an opportunity to go to the polls to get more young people and fresher minds into the operations of government. That’s our chance to influence growth and hope we don’t get Pretoria apologists in all key positions.

Demostrated

We have demonstrated as a country our potential if we have young and capable minds in government.

For instance, the ministry of tourism and environmental affairs has never been the same since Macford Sibandze graced that ministry. For years, it had been a dull ministry with little to sell except counting the number of tourists who visited the country during Easter holidays. Sibandze gave us more than that and those who have come after him have struggled to match his appetite for the job.

That’s what we need at key positions in government maybe we can have a chance towards a prosperous future.

All in all, this budget speech left me with very little to be excited about. It gave no detail nor did it give hope. He said nothing about how much is reserved for the Golden Jubilee despite making mentioning of it in his introductory remarks.

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