Next week’s budget – between a rock and a hard place

When it comes to the budget next week, newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa, and his promise of renewal,  finds himself between a rock and a hard place.  The government needs a budget to be passed timeously. But the budget before parliament will essentially be a Zuma Corruption budget.

How can he or the ANC defend or vote for such a budget? A budget designed by Gigaba under Zuma’s direction. A budget bound to be filled with opportunities for further state capture and stealing.

Budgets take months to prepare. Even if Gigaba has been replaced as Minister of Finance by then, this will offer no solution. It will simply be the same budget presented by a new minister who has had no hand in its creation.

Why the rush?

I was surprised by the enthusiasm with which the ANC Chief Whip and the ANC Treasurer-General seemed to be determined that the budget should be presented, debated and passed by parliament next week. If I was them, I would have wanted to create as much space as possible for Gigaba to be replaced, a new minister of finance to be appointed, and for him or her to have at least a few weeks to review and amend the budget before presentation to parliament.

If the ANC fails to take some meaningful steps to ‘cleanse’ the budget, Ramaphosa and the ANC will stand accused of changing horses midstream but with no direction. Surely they don’t want to spend the next year defending and implementing Zuma’s budget.

What can be done?

The Public Finance Management Act (Clause 27.1) reads as follows:

National annual budgets: The Minister must table the annual budget for a financial year in the National Assembly before the start of that financial year or, in exceptional circumstances, on a date as soon as possible after the start of that financial year, as the Minister may determine.

Clearly, these are exceptional circumstances. The President has just been replaced. In all probability, the Minister of Finance and many cabinet ministers will have been replaced. Surely the new President, the new Finance Minister, and the revised cabinet will want to consider and amend the budget before it is presented to parliament?

All that needs to be done is for the President to appoint a new Minister of Finance, and for the new Minister of Finance to announce a future date on which he will present the budget.

What is the alternative?

Alternatively, the new President and his revised cabinet may wish to claim that it is too late to change the budget so that they have an excuse for problems that may occur during the year ahead. But that hardly represents the new beginning that the new president has promised.

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