Tabling a difficult budget that required him to weigh priorities against a need for fiscal consolidation, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni kicked off his speech by saying that by doing things right, the country can return to “plum” times.
A part-time farmer himself, Mboweni told the nation on Wednesday afternoon that it is time for the country to sow the seed of renewal and growth.
Quoting a bible verse from the book of Zechariah – which speaks about the prosperity of the seed, among others – he said for the seed to be prosperous, the country must first cultivate the soil.
Once the seed has been planted, Mboweni said, it must be nurtured, watered and protected from the extremes, the elements and time.
Mboweni said a few years ago, one of his predecessors handed out succulent plums to Members of Parliament to demonstrate the times of plenty in the country.
“Today, we walk into this house with an iconic South African plant, the Aloe Ferox. This is one of the best known South African plants. It has a long history of medicinal use. It is resilient, sturdy and drought resistant. It withstands the elements. We must take the bitter with the sweet. Today, I bring you a seed to prove that if we plant anew, we can return to those plum times,” he said.
Mboweni said this year’s Budget is built on six fundamental prescripts:
– Achieving a higher rate of economic growth;
– Increasing tax collection;
– Reasonable, affordable expenditure;
– Stabilising and reducing debt;
– Reconfiguring State-owned enterprises; and
– Managing the public sector wage bill.
“It will not be easy. There are no quick fixes. But our nation is ready for renewal. We are ready,” he said.
Mboweni said this coming year, interest expenditures will be R209.4 billion, which amounts to R1 billion per day.
He said the expenditure and tax adjustments are designed to largely counter the additional allocation for Eskom and the revenue shortfall.
“As a result, gross national debt will still stabilise at about 60% of GDP in 2023/24, broadly in line with our October forecast.
“We are masters of our own destiny.
“Our determination to regain our fiscal prudence will form the basis of our economic recovery. We will be on our way back to the plum years,” he said.
Mboweni said restoring government’s finances and fixing State-owned enterprises will take great courage, “but it can be done”.