Last week, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba released a 46-item to-do list he titled "Government’s inclusive growth action plan". Just a week earlier, the IMF released its annual Article IV report on SA’s economy, which called for urgent reforms to "reignite growth and render it more inclusive". Comparing and contrasting the two documents highlights just how unwilling the government is to contemplate the kinds of bold action that would be needed — even though Gigaba’s to-do list claims to respond to the concerns raised by "stakeholders", presumably including the IMF.

Those concerns, as Gigaba acknowledged, are about slow growth and rising government debt, and in particular, about the state of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the risk they pose. The concerns are also about poor confidence and policy uncertainty. The 46 items touch on all of these, especially the SOEs, which make up almost two-thirds of the list in one way or another.The emphasis is appropriate: the IMF’s research makes it clear how important it is for SA to fix the SOEs. Their losses have averaged 0.4% of GDP for the last eight fiscal years and they have been a significant drag on the fiscus, with an average of 0.8% of GDP having to be transferred to bail them out each year. That’s even before the huge risk the guarantees to SOEs, which represent 10% of GDP, pose to public finances if they have to be triggered. SOE reforms are needed to reduce those costs and manage those risks to the public finances, and ultimately to SA’s credit rating and its borrowing costs, says the IM...

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