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Durban - Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan’s, promise to tighten the purse strings on government officials’ wasteful expenditure did not go far enough to tackle the problem of “explicit hedonism” and corruption.
This was the view of political economist, Patrick Bond, after Gordhan’s medium-term budget speech on Wednesday.
Bond, of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the move to cut expenditure on travel, entertainment, official housing and credit cards signalled a “possible derailment” of the “gravy train”.
“But this is only the most superficial form of waste, and the big money is still going into ‘white elephant’ waste, which appears set to continue if the heavy infrastructure commitments continue, the tenderpreneurship cronyism isn’t halted, and the same construction firms are hired as colluded on R40 billion (worth) of past mega-projects,” he said.
Bond added that with Nkandla and other forms of “explicit hedonism”, Gordhan’s commitment was a “small gesture” that the public would appreciate, but the ANC’s political opponents on the left and right still had “plenty more ammunition” with which to embarrass the ruling party.
Asked to comment on wasteful expenditure and abuse in the province, Bond said provincial and local governments had been far too reliant upon outsourcing services.
“This is one of the reasons the Manase Commission was so damning – because the cronyism unveiled was so wasteful,” Bond said.
“Minister Gordhan recognises this as a problem but appears to have no solution to it, since he is apparently committed to yet more privatisation.”
Bond said the government was not prepared to spend the necessary resources to meet these basic needs.
Bond said the debt burden for internal borrowing was still quite reasonable, in the low range compared to peer emerging-market countries.
“The problem is that we’re borrowing to build white elephant projects, and Minister Gordhan hasn’t got enough political power to reverse these – assuming he wants to.”
Bond said Gordhan’s budget statement was “mainly pleasing to the bankers” and “won’t begin to resolve the deeper crises” in the country.
He added that conditions were ripe for a major strategy rethink.
Nhlanhla Khubisa, secretary-general of the NFP, said he wished Gordhan had mentioned the issue of corruption.
“The impression I got is that government wants to tighten their belts due to the (world financial crisis) turbulence. But he did not hammer home the issue of corruption and how as government they aim to crack down on it,” he said.
“Corruption is like a cancer, it robs people of opportunities, it would have been nice to hammer that home.”
However, Khubisa said the NFP welcomed the curtailing of “fruitless expenditure” on things such as travel, accommodation, credit cards, entertainment and consultant fees. He said the government’s reliance on consultants had been “excessive” and the party was happy the government was “moving towards the right direction”.
“What is needed now is political will to ensure that this is done and it’s not just political talk,” he said.
“Every department should be fighting for a clean audit. With a new premier in the province, a clean audit should be non-negotiable to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent.”