President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address at parliament in Cape Town, February 13 2020. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address at parliament in Cape Town, February 13 2020. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM

The debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address will be the major highlight this week, with opposition parties certain to attempt to poke holes in his speech. 

MPs will debate the speech during a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ramaphosa is due to reply to the debate on Thursday.

In his speech, which was keenly watched by the markets and ratings agencies seeking clarity on policy and reform amid the crisis engulfing most of SA’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs), not least Eskom and SAA, Ramaphosa announced measures to open the energy market, and plans to establish a sovereign wealth fund and a state bank.

The president also promised spending cuts in a bid to stabilise SA’s finances. Details are due to be announced by finance minister Tito Mboweni in his budget speech next week.

On Friday, credit ratings agency Fitch, which already rates government debt as junk, said Ramaphosa’s address had little detail on key policy areas such as energy, public finances and land reform.

“The difficulty of addressing competing priorities of reducing inequality, raising growth, improving public finances and containing populism and infighting within the ANC will continue to limit the government’s ability to take more decisive steps to accelerate growth,” Fitch said.

Last week, DA leader John Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa’s speech showed that he had chosen the ANC ahead of the country.

“The perfect storm of a stalled economy, rampant unemployment, fast-disappearing investment, shrinking tax revenue and a failed state-owned power utility has meant that [bold and tough] decisions could no longer be kicked down the road, as the president has been doing these past two years. We have reached the proverbial D-Day for introducing the critical reforms needed to stave off an economic collapse,” Steenhuisen said.

On Tuesday, parliament’s portfolio committee on trade & industry will be briefed by the department on the outcomes of technical working groups on measures to improve the ease of doing business, including measures to address visa constraints for investors and on progress regarding the establishment of the outstanding provincial one-stop shops.

On Wednesday, the portfolio committee on defence & military veterans will receive feedback from auditor-general Kimi Makwetu on the progress regarding the department of defence audit action implementation plan. Financial chaos continues to dog the department amid aggressive budget cuts.

In its 2018/2019 annual report tabled in parliament late in 2019, Makwetu slapped the department with a qualified audit opinion for the second year running, finding that it had incurred irregular expenditure totalling R5.13bn.

The department has over the years been hit with a string of negative audit reports‚ ranging from qualified to disclaimer‚ which is the worst possible audit outcome. It is responsible for overseeing the SA National Defence Force, which is tasked with defending SA against external military aggression and plays a role in peacekeeping missions in Africa.

The DA is expected to announce its Tshwane mayor-elect this week. Earlier in February, Tshwane mayor Stevens Mokgalapa announced that he would be stepping down after a preliminary internal probe into a recording of conversations and alleged sexual relations between him and former transport MMC Sheila Senkubuge. A decision was taken by the DA’s federal executive last week that he would have to face a disciplinary hearing. 

The DA does not have a majority in the city and relies on coalition partners. It could therefore lose control of SA’s administrative capital, a few months after losing control of Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za