Speech notes by Bobby Stevenson MPL, speaking on the Appropriation Bill, 18 May 2017

This budget takes place not only against the fiscal crisis in which this country find itself in but also against the background of a number of factors. These include medico legal contingent liabilities of R17,669 billion, a provision for capped leave of R6.2 billion, backlogs in infrastructure of R151.1 billion, accruals in the region of R1.5 billion. There is also the issue of COE which is projected to rise at 7.1% this year. Our province is the second highest when it comes to expenditure on COE which is at 64,6% and the lowest was Western Cape at 53,1%. These factors clearly illustrate the restricted fiscal space in which the province finds itself in.

The Democratic Alliance has a number of concerns in regard to this budget.

The DA cannot support the health budget. I do not believe that this is a credible budget. The MEC for health informed the National Assembly that as at the 31st of January, the department had accruals of R1,4 Billion. When I raised this matter in the Portfolio Committee on Finance, no clear answer could be given as to how these accruals would be funded.

There is no clarity as to the extent of the accruals. Otherwise why would a building and computers belonging to the department of health be attached to force payment? Why is it that there is no funding for certain psychiatric drugs? This is a violation of human rights.

If one takes off R14,4 billion of a R21,7 Billion budget, one is left with roughly R7 billion for all other non-COE related expenditure. If one starts the year with R1,4 billion in accruals that have to be paid, it is totally impossible for this department to carry out its work. It is also important to bare in mind that the cost of COE is 66% of the budget, which is the highest in the country and there are still many vacancies to be filled. Its budget is therefore not credible and cannot be supported.

The DA opposes programme three of the department of transport which deals with scholar transport.

The department only has funding for 77 774 pupils even though the demand is for 111 000 pupils. This means that some 34 000 learners battle to get to school on a daily basis. This cannot be right and it is unconstitutional.

Education is the foundation of opportunity. If our learners are denied a proper education through a lack of transport, it affects their future prospects in life. The lack of scholar transport is compounded by the poor matric pass rate in our schools which is still below 60%.

In 2015, of the public schools in the Eastern Cape, 95% had electricity and 95% had water,  but only 8,4% had libraries; 5,47% laboratories; 10% had computer facilities and 40%  had sports facilities.

Unemployment remains high in the country, particularly youth unemployment and this necessitates the need for skills in a technologically advancing economy. The unemployment rate is the highest in regard to those who do not have a matric certificate compared to those who have some tertiary education.

The unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2016 was 28,4% or an expanded rate of 41,13.

It should be a number one priority in this province to ensure that learners can be transported to school. As was stated by the DA yesterday in the House, we should be prioritising scholar transport ahead of war rooms which is a duplication of existing ward committees.

The poor state of our roads infrastructure is also impacting on our economic development. 31% of our network is in a very poor condition and 37% in a fair condition. This is very high in relation to the World Bank and Road Infrastructure Strategic Framework for South Africa which has a recommendation of 10% of roads in a poor to very poor condition and 25% in a fair condition.

This has a negative impact on the provincial economy due to high vehicle operating costs, lack of access to social services as well as limiting commercial activities. The department needs to embrace innovation and new ideas when it comes to the building of new roads.

When we had the hearings on the Division of Revenue Bill this point was highlighted by some of the municipalities particularly the impact on the local economy.

Going forward government will have to root out non-core expenditure. One cannot simply give every line item and programme a haircut. This has been likened to simply trimming the leaves on the branches of trees, they grow back. What one has to do is to cut off the whole branch. The government has a short window of opportunity to do this before the next budget cycle. Unless you start to immediately attend to these issues in a systematic way, this province will face massive financial upheaval and social unrest. — DA Leader of the Official Opposition in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, Bobby Stevenson

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