Mixed signals

2008-04-03 00:00

Yesterday’s issue of this newspaper placed in an intriguing juxtaposition two contrasting articles about the state of this country’s economy. First, there was Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s jubilation over the latest achievement of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) in collecting a record amount of tax for the year ending March 31. On the opposite page was the account of street vendors in this city trying to make a living by selling simple meals to taxi commuters and struggling to cope with increases in the prices of basic foodstuff.

Manuel is right to congratulate Sars on its remarkable success in its collecting of tax from the South African public. No less than R571,8 billion has been brought into the fiscus from the 2007/2008 financial year. The question on many lips, however, is how this harvest will be spent. How much of it will be lost to incompetence or corruption in government departments? Ordinary citizens like street vendors may be asking where the practical benefit is for them. The government’s admirable and much-vaunted ideal of a better life for all is failing to filter through, quite literally, to the proverbial person in the street.

Some of the current economic malaise is clearly due to global trends, such as the escalating price of oil, and these are beyond the treasury’s control. Yet the accumulative increases, actual or potential, in the cost of fuel, food and electricity, not to mention property rates, are having a devastating affect on people’s morale. The next announced phase of electricity load shedding brings not simply an unpleasant inconvenience. It constitutes a catastrophic threat to economic viability in every profession, every industry and every institution across the land. The disaster of Eskom’s incapacity to meet current demand has made a large dent on people’s confidence in South Africa as a winning nation.

Manuel can sit in his current conference in Addis Ababa feeling, in his words, “like the cat who’s had all the cream”. On the ground at home many of the mice are far from happy or content.

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