Finance minister Tito Mboweni arrives at parliament on February 26 2020. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Finance minister Tito Mboweni arrives at parliament on February 26 2020. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Finance minister Tito Mboweni has emphasised the need for government to deal with wasteful expenditure as a vital step in restoring public confidence in the government.

One of the reasons often cited for the reluctance of taxpayers to pay taxes is the perception of widespread corruption and wastage in the government.

But in a media briefing ahead of his budget speech in parliament on Wednesday, Mboweni highlighted the “mammoth task”  awaiting the government in reducing wastage. “There is a lot of cleaning up that we can do,” Mboweni said.

The need to cut wastage has become more acute as the government’s financial situation deteriorates. It has to implement deep cuts in its expenditure. Mboweni announced a net downward adjustment of non-interest government expenditure of R156bn over the next three years relative to the 2019 budget projections.

“We must get more value for our money,” the minister stressed in his speech. This would require a dynamic and appropriate mix of quantity, quality, capacity and capability in the administration of the state.

“We are moving forward with reforms to the procurement system with a focus on value for money and maximising the quality and quantity of services,” Mboweni said, referring to the draft Public Procurement Bill, which has been approved by the cabinet and released for public comment.

“We will accelerate merging and consolidating public entities. We will propose a new law to stop excessive salaries in these public entities.”

The minister said the government also had to deal decisively with the excessively high cost of leasing its buildings.

He said that to demonstrate the determination of the executive to deal with runaway costs, a number of steps would be implemented including abolishing the current wasteful subsistence and travel system; replacing the cellphone policy and requiring economy-class travel for all domestic flights except in exceptional circumstances.

Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane said that public office-bearers were taking the lead in tightening their belts and would not benefit from salary hikes.

Mboweni said the government was already acting on the fruitless and wasteful expenditure disclosed in the reports of auditor-general Kimi Makwetu. The Public Audit Act had been amended to empower the auditor-general to refer matters to a public body for investigation and prosecution, take binding remedial action and recover money directly from those responsible.

At the same time that the government attempts to curb wasteful expenditure, Sars will be concentrating on developing its capability to collect taxes. This capability was hollowed out when previous commissioner Tom Moyane was at the helm, and tax revenue has not reached the level it could have in spite of low growth. The new commissioner, Edward Kieswetter, has embarked on a programme to rebuild the institution and recruit highly skilled staff.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za