EC budget comment: the how much must be clearly translated into how

The MEC for Finance, Sakhumzi Somyo, tabled the Eastern Cape 2018/2019 provincial budget in the Bhisho Legislature on Wednesday (7 March 2018).

EC_budget_reaction_Jane_Cowley_voice_clip_-_Englis

The budget for the next financial year lacks creativity and while the key issues that we face in the Eastern Province such as crippling unemployment, an excessively bloated bureaucracy and corrupt tender and supply chain practises are identified, there are no new or innovative plans to address these scourges. The how much must be clearly translated into how.

Reflecting the austerity of the national budget, MEC Somyo announced a total budget of R78.177- billion, including own revenue. However, while equitable share has gone up slightly, conditional grants have decreased. The Education Infrastructure Grant and Human Settlements Development Grant were worst hit, with decreases of 6,44% and 14,78% respectively.

Jobs can only be created in an environment of fiscal discipline and political will. Our huge wage bill is indicative of a public service that sucks the province dry to feed itself but lacks the required productivity. The MEC has made no significant announcements on how this wage bill can be brought under control. Further, until such time that corruption within the ranks of the provincial government has been rooted out in its entirety, the man on the street will fail to feel the effects of job creation and good service delivery.

No bold steps have been taken to curb ever-increasing accruals and contingent liabilities, which include medico-legal claims against the Department of Health. Backlogs in infrastructure and roads, which amount to hundreds of millions, are not addressed. Also, far stricter measures need to be put in place to deal with travel and subsistence claims and cancellations, which cost the province close on R800-million last year.

We welcome the increased budget for Early Childhood Development. We are also pleased that the rollout of broadband is being prioritised, as is the Scholar Transport System for our learners. Further support for amalgamated municipalities is also welcomed, as well as the concerted effort to support local beneficiation and improved support of SMMEs. However, the tourism sector, which could potentially be a huge contributor to both job creation and the provincial fiscus, has once again been sidelined.

The uncertainty around the future of the MEC has perhaps played a role in the delivery of a lacklustre budget that walks a tightrope between controlling the wage bill and delivering services but has no brave, decisive and innovative plans to respond to the financial challenges we face. — Jane Cowley MPL, member of the Portfolio Committee on Finance