Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni delivers his 2021 budget speech in parliament in Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES​/ESA ALEXANDER
Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni delivers his 2021 budget speech in parliament in Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES​/ESA ALEXANDER

Ordinarily, I'm hard-pressed to find a single point of disagreement with Claire Bisseker’s trenchant analysis. However, her review of the budget speech was perhaps too generous (“Tito Mboweni’s uncompromising budget deserves more credit,  March 1).

The budget provided for cuts to the social grants allocation of R31bn over the next three years, cuts to the public hospitals budget of R700m this year, steep real cuts to the budget for emergency medical treatment, and real cuts to the teaching budget.

In the context of record-breaking spikes in poverty, hunger and unemployment, the cuts to the essential services on which the most vulnerable depend are simply indefensible. The fact is, the poor will get poorer in SA as a result of this budget.

Social grants are provided to the elderly, the disabled, foster parents and young mothers to help care for children. If government is now spending less on supporting them, what is it spending more on? The answer makes the budget even less defensible.

The priorities are upside down. The department of bailouts (public enterprises) is sending another R4.3bn to SAA and R31bn to Eskom. The Land Bank, the new kid on the bailout block, gets R7bn. There's R900m for upgrades to foreign mission properties, and four new missions (on top of the 125 we have already).

There’s R2.9bn on blue light brigades and bodyguards for politicians, and interestingly the social support for “military veterans” is going up 17.8% a year for the next three years. These allocations have led the Financial and Fiscal Commission to question whether the budget may even be deemed unconstitutional, in that it explicitly erodes guaranteed basic services to the poor in favour of wasteful bailouts.

Mboweni deserves praise for holding the line on government wages, and on committing to turn debt around by 2025, but the choices made in this budget say much about the government’s priorities, and its values.

Geordin Hill-Lewis, MP, DA finance spokesperson

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