The Week Ahead: All about #budget2016 and some legislating

Finance Minister Pravin Gordan's budget speech on Wednesday will dominate the headlines this week. The Minister has a tough job to do as he seeks to address significant social challenges and reassure investors about the country’s growth prospects.

During the 2015 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement Speech, the former Minister highlighted energy constraints, falling commodity prices, skills shortages, unemployment, structural weaknesses and the global slowdown as some of the major impediments affecting the country. Since then, the outlook has deteriorated further with a depreciating Rand, persistent drought, job cuts and credit downgrades adding to this toxic mix.

President Jacob Zuma highlighted the country’s economic crisis during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) and in his response to the Sona debate where he put forward various proposals to stop wasteful expenditure, find additional revenue and avert a ratings downgrade. The Minister will flesh out these measures in his speech.

Commentators and analysts have also added their voice to the debate with many expecting the Minister to introduce tax hikes and address the following topics: the country’s industrial strategy, the selling of non-strategic core assets and the public sector wage bill. The spending on government’s social and infrastructure programmes are also expected to feature quite strongly.

With a bleak forecast and government revenue declining, all eyes will be on the Minister to see what balancing act he achieves.

Meanwhile, the NCOP will conduct an oral question session with Ministers in Peace and Security Cluster on Tuesday. It is scheduled to be a marathon all day sitting where members of the executive will be probed on a number of interesting topics, including the Lesotho Special Permits, inefficiencies in processing IDs, interventions in Burundi, withdrawal from the ICC, prosecution of apartheid offenders, minors in custody, Nkandla security upgrades, vetting of public service employees and cyber crime.

The public discourse on racism has exploded in 2016 and will be the subject of a parliamentary debate in the upper chamber on Thursday. The title for the planned debate is “Anti-racism and racial prejudice: Advancing our collective efforts to building a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa”.

Over in the National Assembly, the NA will adopt the Expropriation Bill and refer it to the NCOP for concurrence. It was approved by the Public Works Committee amid strong objections from opposition parties.

The committee corridor is stacked with meetings this week, offering a blend of interesting and drab topics as well as some legislative meat. Here is a run down of the highlights:

On Tuesday, there will be a briefing by the South African Post Office on its 2014/2015 annual report and other outstanding issues. The state entity is expected to face a tough grilling from lawmakers as it tries to explain a loss of R1.4 billion (an increase from the R406.6 million loss from the previous year) in the year under review.

Another state owned company – PRASA - will face intense scrutiny when it appears before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on its 2014/15 annual performance. Prasa received an unqualified audit with a 118 matters of emphasis, up from 71. Irregular expenditure exceeded a half a billion rand.

It’s a full programme for the Sports Committee as it meets with SASCOC about preparations for Rio 2016 and the big 5 national federations (rugby, cricket, football, netball and athletics) on their transformation programmes.

On the lawmaking side, deliberations will continue on the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill. Access to information activists will be closely monitoring the first briefing on the Films and Publications Board Amendment Bill. Despite explanations from the Minister and the Department, critics have condemned the proposed law saying that it will curtail freedom of expression and force people wanting to post pictures and videos on Twitter or Facebook to have to submit them for classification first.

On Wednesday, legislators will learn more about the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Commission, the Black Industrialist Policy and 2014 Defence Review.

On Thursday, a joint meeting of the Standing and Select Committee on Appropriations and Standing and Select Committee on Finance will get a briefing by the Minister of Finance on the 2016 Budget.

The budget theme continues on Friday when National Treasury briefs MPS on the 2016 Division of Revenue Bill.

See meetings schedule here.


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