Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

So how did you feel about finance minister Tito Mboweni’s revelation that the government had spent just over R187bn on bailouts to state-owned enterprises (SOEs) over the past 20 years?

Did you shrug your shoulders and think: “Billion-schmillion – what’s the big deal?”

We’ve become complacent about big numbers. There are so many thrown around all the time. SA has a R2-trillion annual budget. So what’s a few billion here or there?

Remember being outraged at the R246m that former president Jacob Zuma spent on the development of his Nkandla estate?

Don’t you miss those days?

Nowadays that particular scandal – and the government’s farcical firepool fantasy – feels like it happened in another dimension. It doesn’t even warrant a mention when you look at the extremes of corruption and catastrophic misspending that occur daily.

So, let’s give you a perspective on just how much taxpayer money has been spent on keeping inefficient enterprises functioning, all too often only to be raided by politically connected individuals for their own account.

How long will it take you to count to count to a million? One number at a time, every second. Obviously, a million seconds. Counting to 1-million in a slow, steady fashion with no bathroom breaks, meals or time for a nap would take you 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds. That is to count from one to 1,000,000.

Considering a billion is 1,000-million, it would take you a thousand times longer to get to that number. Now picture how long it would take you to count enough R1 coins to get to R1bn.

Let me help: it will take you 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds to count to a billion.

But, you say, the government has spent how much bailing out SOEs over 20 years?

Yes, R187bn. You’d better start counting those R1 coins, because it’ll take 5,890 years to count to a high enough number to cover that bill.

Oh, and try not to get confused at any point, because you’ll have to start again.

Outraged much?

Well, consider that the government’s interest bill right now is approaching R2bn a day. It would take you 63 years to count out the money just to pay one day’s interest.

Take just one SOE: the government’s biggest single financial liability, Eskom, which is unable to generate enough cash, never mind electricity, to meet its costs.

At last count, Eskom had R454bn in debt and rising. When it last reported financial results, it estimated a 2020 loss of R20bn. And let’s not get started on SAA.

Tell you what: you do the sum on the R9bn needed to keep that one afloat.

And then go and have a lie down. You’ll have deserved it.

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