: 13 April 2010
The most ambitious part of this year’s
provincial budget is that it is aiming for a surplus. The provincial
Treasury is going to need one if the current budgetary pressures,
chief of them the overdraft and unfunded mandates, persist into the
Budgeting for an overdraft nevertheless
reflects the thinking that governments should build up fiscal space
during the good times so that they have a buffer when crisis hits
again and government finances deteriorate. Strictly speaking, we
have yet to wait for the good times as our economy is only slowly
emerging from the meltdown, but the times today are definitely
better than they were a year ago when the Hon. MEC for Finance
tabled her first post-election budget.
We also appreciate the sentiments voiced by
Hon. Cronje last week who is determined to extract a positive lesson
from the economic recession. It appears that the provincial
government may have been forced into taking a more proactive stance
in job creation and look beyond the Expanded Public Works Programme
towards the job-creating public sector for assistance.
Sadly, this approach never reached its full
potential in the run-up to the recession. The fall in government’s
debt ratio over the past decade and the shift to single digit
inflation from double digits, lowered the structure of domestic
interest rates and boosted private sector investment opening the way
for spontaneous job creation in that sector. These positive factors
were largely frustrated by the government’s inflexible labour
legislation which hindered job creation. In this regard, the past
decade was a missed opportunity.
KwaZulu-Natal’s unemployment problem is
structural and the education system’s failure to deliver in an
economy where economic activity is increasingly skewed towards
skill-intensive sectors, must now prompt a more direct, if less
managerial intervention in the labour market. The infrastructure
spending, including the Expanded Public Works Programme, must now be
diversified to co-opt the private sector and let it do what it does
best when it is allowed to operate freely - boost employment.
Chairperson, there is a number of
developments where the Official Opposition would like to give the
Hon. MEC for Finance credit for the progress she has achieved. The
extravagance with regard to advertising, venues and facilities, the
non-judicious use of consultants and a range of supply chain
dilemmas have all been acknowledged and addressed adequately.
The problems of financial mismanagement in
various departments, highlighted year after year by the
Auditor-General as resulting from the failure on the part of these
departments to sign performance contracts with senior management
staff have also received the attention they deserve.
But even more than these measures, we
welcome the much tougher line taken by the Hon. MEC for Finance and
the Hon. Premier against corruption. The IFP would like to pledge
its full support to the proposed measures, including “target
lifestyle audits”, in order to root out corrupt relationships that
continue to mar government.
It is also pleasing to see many government
departments turn their attention to their core functions rather than
spend wildly on peripheral projects, which became a worrying trend
in KwaZulu-Natal between 2004 and 2009. Upon her appointment last
year, the Hon. MEC for Finance rightly placed an overdue emphasis on
essential services as opposed to nice-to-haves and her efforts have
so far yielded results.
There are, however, still some outstanding
issues that need to be tackled more holistically and effectively.
Excessive bureaucracy coupled with political appointments to
management positions is one of them. Sharpening control over
departments’ financial systems and associated data integrity by way
of targeted assistance to accounting officers and departmental CFOs
that could form part of Treasury’s
cost-cutting measures has been addressed by the finance portfolio
committee where it received support from the IFP. The provincial
government needs to expedite an audit of its immovable assets to
determine which properties could be utilised to meet departmental
needs in lieu of costly commercial rentals, which account for a
large and ever increasing portion of the budget. We hope that the
public debate around this audit will go far enough to uncover not
merely uneconomical rental agreements but also those that were
motivated by corrupt relationships between politicians and the
Chairperson, the achievement of the goals
spelled out in this budget will require total complicity of the
Premier and all the other MECs as well as greater discipline by the
members of this House, and even the mayors and councillors of local
and district municipalities. Those of us who sit on the opposition
benches are prepared to rise to the occasion.
Improved financial governance and service
delivery begins with good planning and puts hard milestones in place
for each of us to be measured on. This year’s budget is a step
toward this, but more has to follow in monitoring, so that we can
ensure that we deliver on our undertakings. As far as the Official
Opposition is concerned, I can pledge our support.
I thank you.
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