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Figures from Mr Mboweni’s Budget speech fails to mesmerise

Alex Tabisher writes that he wants to know how Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, and others like him, can make a career of telling us how badly off we are. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Alex Tabisher writes that he wants to know how Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, and others like him, can make a career of telling us how badly off we are. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 4, 2021

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by Alex Tabisher

This week’s contribution will probably go down as my worst, because I am going to write about something about which I know very little, and we are all agreed that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I am going to respond to Mr Mboweni’s Budget Speech.

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I want to know how this man, and others like him, can make a career of telling us how badly off we are. Worse, how long we will stay badly off while those who caused us to be badly off go on collecting bucketsful of earnings from our meagre Budget via interest on our debts. Tito actually said that he was tempted to ask someone to tell him how many noughts there were in a trillion.

He refrained from embarrassing both himself and his intended target for a very simple reason. The figures have gone beyond the kinds of reality that we can deal with.

In a previous column, I explained the difference between a million and a billion. That’s six noughts vs nine noughts. If I had a million, and spent R30 000 (thirty thousand rand) a day on whatever, I would deplete that million in about a month. If, on the other hand, I had a billion and spent money at the same rate, it would take me about 274 years to deplete the funds.

Now imagine a trillion. My mind buckles under the notion of so much money. If we had it, great. But we owe it.

It is what we are short of to join the countries that are “blessed” to be able to borrow again from those who drive Third World Fiscal status to junk levels and keep them there.

And our minister stands there and tells us that basic little truth. Then he rubs in salt by projecting that fiscal credibility might be reached by 2025. Man, he is now not only bludgeoning us with numbers, he is adding the burden of time. We have to stay alive (barely) to maintain this pathetic place on the international and national pecking order.

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Then comes a real clanger from this man of millions, then billions, then trillions (he has been recycled a few times). He has again thrown money at losers, to wit, the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), pipe-dreams like a national hospital plan and untested vaccines, non-paying tertiary students, 19 000 000 receivers of monthly grants, and an army who never fought a war but are given a monthly allowance just for having been part of the national resistance to apartheid cruelty.

He says in a snide and sneering way (during a post-speech news interview) that he will not – I repeat, he will not – grant the Zondo Commission extra money. They must complete their work. He was uncompromisingly and singularly brusque about that.

My question is: Yegads, sir, it is that very engine or agency called Zondo that should enable us to stop the rot of theft and fraud, and also trigger the recovery of the purloined money using a judiciary that displays its intent to lay to rest the ghosts of our miserable failure. What are you thinking?

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An ex-premier cocks a snoot at justice, at the havoc he wrought and the irreparable damage he inflicted on our creditability. He challenges the very basis of decency and credit-worthiness by cracking a whip at a legal agency designed to bring to book those who have caused Nus to be poorer than church mice.

To quote the impetuous Tom Cruise, how could anybody be so galactically stupid as to not see that he has just shot himself in the foot?

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

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** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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