Who has spare change for a billion lying around?

11 September 2017 - 07:16 By The Times Editorial
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Supplied

A billion rands is losing its capacity to impress us with its size - or to shock us when it's squandered by the government. We must remind ourselves that a billion is a thousand million, a fair splodge for folk who'll never see a million in their bank accounts.

The auditor-general has national and provincial governments down for R46-billion in "irregular" expenditure.

Other random stats might help shake us out of our "billions" dwaal: SAA's losses are R4.5-billion in an average year, while Eskom's Ingula hydroelectric plant will cost more than R36-billion - a mere R27-billion over budget.

Today we report that the state-of-the-art Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital, in Parktown, Johannesburg, recently built with public donations of R1-billion (just the one), is in danger of becoming a white elephant because the government cannot stump up annual operational costs of half-a-billion rand.

There's quibbling about who promised to pay for what, but the most "worthy" monument yet built in memory of our late great leader is clearly worth a lot more than a measly R500-million a year to the national brand.

Yes, the Treasury does face myriad needs in a poverty-stricken country. And the president's new jet has to be paid for. And we need to give Brian Molefe a comfy retirement.

So, who, then, has spare change for a billion lying around?

Atul Gupta, for one. Last year he was named South Africa's richest black person, with R10-billion to his name, dislodging Patrice Motsepe from top spot in the Business Times' Rich List - an assessment based on just his public JSE holdings.

If ever the justice system gets around to calculating what the Guptas owe us as a nation, the judge might consider setting aside some recovered monies for the kids' hospital. That feels like the way Mandela liked to dispense justice.