HILARY JOFFE: Respite from the pressure, but no reprieve from hard choices ahead

14 February 2021 - 00:18 By Hilary Joffe

In a state of the nation address in which the economy was the dominant theme and the president's October economic recovery plan was much spun, what was not said was as striking as what was. First, there was not a single mention of the fiscal crisis in which SA finds itself, with public debt spiralling towards 100% of the size of the economy and an interest bill that already consumes about one-fifth of the tax the government raises. Second, there was no real acknowledgement of the fact that SA's economy was stagnating long before the pandemic (or that the government's own failure to effect reforms was a big part of the reason).

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, SA has to some extent been saved from itself yet again - at least temporarily - by a friendly global environment that will take some pressure off the fiscus and could even boost growth. However, it depends on whether SA takes advantage of this window of opportunity to bank the gains in a way that ensures a more sustainable fiscal position and more durable growth. If it does not, it will be much more vulnerable next time the global cycle turns hostile...

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