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'Tough talk but no tough action': opposition MPs slam Mboweni

30 October 2019 - 17:19 By THABO MOKONE
Tito Mboweni failed to make the tough decisions required to reduce government debt, says the DA.
Tito Mboweni failed to make the tough decisions required to reduce government debt, says the DA.

DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis said finance minister Tito Mboweni's medium-term budget policy statement avoided the tough decisions required to reduce the rising costs of servicing government debt.

Mboweni's mini-budget showed that the government would be spending a whopping R796bn on its debt, which is now at R3-trillion and will balloon to R4.5-trillion in the next three years.

As tax revenue falls and expenditure increases – driven by bailouts to struggling state- owned entities – national debt is heading beyond 70% of GDP.

Hill-Lewis said this was simply not good enough. "The minister has delayed the difficult choices once again and despite the tough talk, we have not seen the tough action.

"He has not stopped the bailouts to Eskom and SAA, and he has not cut the public sector wage bill, like we suggested ... Despite the tough talk, there's no tough action."

EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu said government debt levels amounted to a "financial crisis", with no clear measures on saving the economy.

Shivambu also said they remained unmoved on the issue of e-tolls after Mboweni reiterated that the government was still in support of the user-pay principle.

"We're opposed to e-tolls payment. We do not think that public infrastructure like roads should be on a user-pay basis. There must be a different approach. That's not sustainable. We're still calling on people not to pay e-tolls. No one is going to be arrested. They won't be able to arrest all of us if we do not pay e-tolls. We must not do it," he said.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the IFP's parliamentary leader, said it was "amazing" that Mboweni told MPs the country was facing a "debt trap" yet he continued to bail out cash-strapped state-owned companies.

LISTEN | 2019 Medium-term budget policy statement highlights

Labour federation Cosatu described Mboweni's statement as "unacceptably weak", and a direct attack on workers.

Cosatu said the policy statement did not address how private sector companies spent billions of rands received through the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme.

"Billions have been given to the private sector through the Employment Tax Incentive, YES programme, and industrial and manufacturing subsidies. Yet there is no report from the government on how these companies have utilised this generosity or how many jobs have been saved and created. Yet many of these companies are retrenching workers or simply recycling existing jobs to access these subsidies," said Matthew Parks, Cosatu's parliamentary co-ordinator.