In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens opens with:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
So too is the present time. As a country, we stand at a crossroads. We can choose a path of hope; or a path of despair. We can go directly to Heaven, or as Dickens so politely puts it, we can go the other way.
For ordinary South Africans, it has become a difficult time. Administered prices, such as electricity and fuel, have risen. Unemployment is unacceptably high. Poor services and corruption have hit the poor the hardest.
Under the leadership of our President, and much like the central character in A Tale of Two Cities, we have, as a country, chosen the difficult path of redemption.
The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement is a central part of our planning as a country. It is designed to outline how we spend scarce resources for the benefit of all South Africans.
This Policy Statement provides us with an opportunity to take stock of the strides we have taken in the year. We do this in a data driven way, providing credible evidence to judge our collective performance as a society.
However, it is more than a set of numbers, reams of data, charts, graphs or words. Our performance should be measured by whether people are gainfully employed, whether our children are learning in decent schools, and whether we have health care facilities that are up to standard.
The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement is an opportunity to restore trust between government and society. South Africans correctly expect more from their government. They are right to expect that their money is spent wisely and productively, and goes to meeting their basic needs.
The 2018 Policy Statement is built on a strong conviction that South Africa can be renewed. It reinforces our commitment to the National Development Plan. It articulates the President’s vision of Thuma Mina.
Together, as a country, we can rebuild and recast our future.
We are at a crossroads. This Policy Statement highlights the difficult economic and fiscal choices confronting us over the medium term.
We must choose a path that takes us to faster and more inclusive economic growth and strengthens private and public sector investment.
We must choose a path that stabilises and reduces the national debt. We cannot continue to borrow at this rate.
We must choose to reduce the structural deficit, especially the consistently high growth in the real public sector wage bill. New fiscal anchors may be required to ensure sustainability, in addition to the expenditure ceiling.
We must choose public sector investment over consumption.
Reconfiguring our state-owned companies requires us to take a hard look at how they operate. Our current challenges with state-owned companies present an opportunity to demolish the walls that exist between the private and public sectors.
Along with other key economic institutions, we will urgently fix the South African Revenue Service. It is a matter of public record that the capacity of SARS has been weakened. It is in this context that the SARS leadership team must be strengthened. The organisation has many talented and committed employees who want the organisation to succeed and who are working tirelessly to re-build trust.