By Bryden Morton, B.Com (Hons) Economics, Executive Director and Chris Blair, B.Sc Chem. Eng., MBA – Leadership & Sustainability, CEO.
Minister Mboweni opened the 2019/2020 South African budget speech by bringing along a typical South African plant, the Aloe, and painting a picture of how this Aloe came to be. He said that we must sow the seeds of renewal and growth, cultivate the soil and protect the plant from the elements and pests by pruning away the rot. Although used as a metaphor, the metaphor is clearly referring to stopping corruption and state capture efforts – something that has directly affected You in South Africa
The budget speech was dominated by concerns over South Africa’s rising debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio, as well as the poor financial state of a number of state owned entities. These issues provide a conundrum for the Finance Minister as he would need to seek additional funding from an already strained tax base. In an election year, major changes to the tax structure tend to be put off until after the election has passed. The entire budget speech lived up to the expectation that no drastic changes would be implemented (from a tax point of view) and that it would be a somewhat neutral budget – the main points impacting You in the economy include:
Increased taxes increase net revenue for the State whilst grants decrease the net revenue for the State. These taxes and grants have not been altered in any significant way which then begs the question of how will South Africa combat rising debt and financially distressed state owned entities (SOEs)? The Finance Minister‘s main solution to this problem is to implement a reduction to the size of the state’s wage bill of R27 billion over 3 years. But how will this be achieved? This would be done by offering older servants early retirement and placing limits on overtime, bonuses and pay progression in the future – will this be enough to arrest the growing GDP deficit and ailing SOEs? Probably not and therefore Minister Mboweni gave an indication into the potential philosophy for raising tax revenues in future when he spoke about his belief in the “user must pay” principle. Undoubtedly, Mboweni was referring to the existing E-Toll and Eskom sagas. These statements provide sufficient evidence to suspect that when the new electricity tariff is announced, NERSA will grant Eskom a larger increase than in recent years. Similarly, this suggests that the E-Toll system will not be scrapped in the short term. Both of these possible outcomes are negative to You, the user.
Finally the overall themes that characterised this year’s budget speech are as follows:
In summary, it was a fairly uneventful budget speech – in line with most expectations that it would be lacking surprises as this is an election year. Whether or not foregoing making meaningful changes to the revenue raising model this year will impact our debt to GDP in the future remains to be seen, but for now, the tax burden on individuals has remained relatively unchanged. It is the future we should worry about.