Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at the press conference before delivering his 2019 budget speech (Gallo Images, Brenton Geach)

  • A joint meeting in Parliament met to consider and adopt the report of the committee on the 2021 budget framework and revenue proposals.
  • The question of whether an explicit reference should be made to zero-based budgeting arose, to which MPs speculated on its status as a policy.
  • The meeting became a dead end on whether zero-based budgeting should be explicitly mentioned as government policy in the report.

A joint meeting of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance and the Special Committee on Finance determined that it would like to get a briefing from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on zero-based budgeting, its implications and status in terms of government strategy and fiscal policy.

The joint meeting considered and adopted a committee report on the 2021 fiscal framework and revenue proposals, related to the Budget speech tabled by Mboweni in Parliament at the end of February.

The meeting became a dead end on whether zero-based budgeting should be explicitly mentioned as government policy in the report. The meeting, while procedural, made it clear that any apprehension among its members about zero-based budgeting as a policy came from the African National Congress.

Zero-based budgeting is a budgeting method that involves starting each year or period on the assumption that funding is sought for each expense that the budget is supposed to cover from zero, with a justification required for each expense. individual.

The rationale for zero-based budgeting is that the government at the central level has a clear idea of ​​the expenditures made by different departments and entities. The zero-based budgeting model is currently being piloted in the SOE Department and monitored for results.

Deputy DA Dion George said that if the government continues to give billions of rand to troubled public entities and fails to reign over the civil service wage bill, the hands of the national treasury will be tied regardless of the department. or Mboweni’s best intentions.

“We’re saying the government should take action to cut spending because we know we have significant debt issues. We talk a lot about what the treasury should do but there’s nothing the treasury can do if irresponsible decisions are made. taken, ”said George. .

DA MP Dennis Ryder said there was not much to support zero-based budgeting in the report document and that the committee’s report had to recognize that the Mboweni mentioned zero-based budgeting as a government strategy and fiscal policy.

“There is a point in the minister’s speech that zero-based budgeting remains a strategy the government wants to push forward. I think we should take that into account. The finance minister said there is budgeting. zero-based and it’s being piloted, ”said Ryder.

EFF MP Floyd Shivambu voiced his rejection of zero-based budgeting, saying it was the extreme level of austerity measures implementation.

“There is enough evidence, even from the Budget Justice Coalition, that austerity is not a mechanism to grow the economy or reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio. It is an extreme form of austerity and this budget is fundamentally based on this absurd logic of budgeting, ”said Shivambu.

ANC MP Edward Njandu suggested that the National Treasury be given the opportunity to implement zero-based budgeting before either committee speculates on its status as government policy.

ANC MP Gijimani Skosana said that with the committee’s view on zero-based budgeting under discussion, the report should not mention zero-based budgeting until its status as a government policy. clarified.

IFP MP Mfakazeleni Buthelezi countered, saying Mboweni was clear that zero-based budgeting was a policy that the National Treasury and the government as a whole planned to follow, with a framework and, as a such, should be considered as a policy.

DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis said the National Treasury is already undergoing 16 expenditure reviews of expenditure items, so it is on its way to becoming policy, if not already, and therefore should be discussed.

ANC MP Yunus Carrim said committees are still supposed to receive quarterly reports and an explanation from the National Treasury on what exactly zero-based budgeting is.

“There is no deal on zero-based budgeting. I don’t think it’s official policy or not because we’ve read it before. Maybe we can get a briefing from the national treasury. on zero-based budgeting and having the committee have its own position on it, ”Carrim said.

Carrim said it was not clear how the Treasury planned to implement it or if it was directly applicable, but the joint committee could not argue that this was not on the agenda. Committee chairman Joe Maswanganyi, the committee is expected to go ahead and continue with a full briefing by the minister.

Freedom Front Plus MP Wouter Wessels said the National Treasury had previously announced it would brief the committee on zero-based budgeting and the committee made a resolution in July for such a briefing to take place. Maswanganyi said the committee will ask Mboweni for a briefing.

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