19 February 2018

The Week Ahead: It's budget week & debate on SONA


An eclectic week of parliamentary action beckons. The 2018 Budget, SONA debate, legislative business and Committee hearings feature.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba's budget speech on Wednesday will dominate headlines this week. The Minister has a tough job to do as he seeks to address significant social challenges and reassure investors about the country’s growth prospects.

The speech itself will largely focus on the planned use of taxpayer funds, measures to secure the country's fiscal and financial position, and steps to strengthen public finance management.

During the 2017 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, the Minister said “improving our economic growth outlook over the period ahead remains our biggest challenge. Creating jobs and dramatically rolling back the tide of unemployment remains our most urgent priority”. In addition, he mentioned that a mix of expenditure cuts and revenue increases – to address some of the revenue shortfall over the MTEF will be announced in the 2018 Budget.

In his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ramaphosa highlighted that for several years the economy has not grown at the pace needed to create enough jobs or lift people out of poverty. “Public finances have been constrained, limiting the ability of government to expand its investment in economic and social development”. In response to these challenges, government will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation. At the centre of the national agenda in 2018 is the creation of jobs, especially for the youth.

Commentators and analysts have also made their predictions with many expecting the Minister to introduce tax hikes (VAT and personal income tax). The financing plans for higher education, spending on government’s social and infrastructure programmes, reducing the budget deficit, reviewing the tax system and tackling the public sector wage bill are also expected to feature quite strongly according to the experts.

With a modest forecast (1.4% according to SA Reserve Bank and 0.9% according to the IMF for 2018), all eyes will be on the Minister to see what balancing act he achieves.

The other excitement will be the debate on the State of the Nation Address on Monday as well as the President’s reply on Tuesday. The debate is usually spread over three days (including the President's response) but has been reduced to two days in order to accommodate the budget. The debate commences at 10am today and it will be a marathon sitting ending this evening.

The debate is a highlight of the parliamentary calendar as all party leaders and a galaxy of heavyweight MPs will speak. In previous years, opposition parties have used the occasion to attack the President and ruling party for not offering new ideas or addressing fundamental issues. In return, the ruling party often hit back at the criticism and defended the President and government's record and proposals. Even with a new President and a new-found optimism in the country, there will be no departure from similar previous debates: the proceedings will be lively and raucous, with plenty of rhetoric, political jibes and heckling. Speaker after speaker will bear their political fangs, with opposition parties urging the President to reshuffle his Cabinet and the governing party pointing out weaknesses in the opposition parties.

There is some significant action in the Committee corridor. Here is a run down of the highlights:

The budget theme starts on Tuesday when the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations, Select Committee on Appropriations, Standing Committee on Finance and Select Committee on Finance receive a pre-budget briefing by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Each year, the PBO provides independent and non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals ahead of the speech.

There's some genuine legislative meat for MPs to chew on as they deal with several pieces of legislation. These include the National Forests Amendment Bill; National Land Transport Amendment Bill; Labour Laws Amendment Bill; Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill; National Minimum Wage Bill; Labour Relations Amendment Bill; Films and Publications Amendment Bill and Mineral & Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill.

The Portfolio Committee on Communications will receive a briefing from the Minister of Communications on the Shareholder Compact and Memorandum of Incorporation of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

Elsewhere, the Department of Women in the Presidency will brief lawmakers on the national dialogues and gender-based violence and Draft Sanitary Dignity policy framework reports.

In October 2017, the Minister of Mineral Resources was summoned to Parliament to respond to allegations of state capture. Minister Zwane told Parliament that his relationship with the Gupta family “is at a professional level” and that he has “not benefited anything from that relationship”. MPs felt the Minister failed to respond to a number of their questions, and scheduled two further meetings in November to continue the probe with the Minister, which he failed to appear. On Wednesday, the Minister will appear before the Committee where he will be interrogated on this as well as respond to new revelations in relation to the Free State Vrede dairy farm case which implicates him.

According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), there are currently 872 confirmed cases of listeriosis. The Portfolio Committee on Health will get a briefing from the Minister of Health on the Department strategies in addressing the listeriosis outbreak. In addition, the Western Cape Provincial Department of Health will brief legislators on its readiness for day zero.

There's some important law-making afoot on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill [B22-2017 and National Research Foundation Bill.

By this stage, you can't blame the MPs sitting on the Standing Committee on Appropriations, Select Committee on Appropriations, Standing Committee on Finance and Select Committee on Finance, if they are experiencing budget fatigue. They will be meeting for a third consecutive day on the topic on Thursday and this time the Minister of Finance will brief them on the 2018 Budget.

View the full schedule here.


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People's Assembly

"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.

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