The Covid-19 pandemic has given South Africa an opportunity to reshape the economy in a way that addresses past injustices and ensures equal opportunities for all, according to Commissioner of the SA Revenue Service, Edward Kieswetter.
The commissioner was speaking during a webinar hosted by Investec, on the road to economic recovery. He weighed in on the nationwide lockdown, instituted on 26 March to slow the spread of Covid-19.
As the country gears up to lift restrictions on economic activity as in the move to Level 3 of the lockdown from 1 June, Kieswetter said it was important not to revert to restoring the "status quo". That would assume everything was right before Covid-19, when on the contrary, the pandemic has exposed the inequalities of society.
Maintaining the state of society will only exacerbate the problems we had before Covid-19, he said.
As an example, before the pandemic hit SA shores, South Africa was already struggling with weak growth and growing debt levels. Growth and debt projections have since worsened, in a worst case scenario Treasury projects a contraction of 16%. Several analysts expect the fiscal deficit to widen from the initially projected 6.8% to beyond 10%.
"Covid-19 is an opportunity to reimagine a new economy, more relevant to the SA we dream of.
"In thinking of the reopening of the economy and the road to the recovery, we must recognise the injustices of the past," said Kieswetter.
"We have not been successful at addressing the inequalities.
We are still the most unequal society in the world. In times of crisis the poor are the most vulnerable," he added.
SA should consider how to address housing infrastructure, public health, public transport and spatial planning gaps, he argued. "In the way that we reopen the economy, there is an opportunity to address those injustices."
Kieswetter said that the privileged sectors of society must realise that the coronavirus is not a respecter of cultures, creed or colour. South Africans should not only aim to protect their "narrow interests". "A threat of the coronavirus to anyone, is a threat of coronavirus to everyone".
Kieswetter added that SA should be mindful not to just reopen legacy businesses once the economy reopens, saying SARS itself is using the "Covid-moment" to leap into the future. "This is an ideal opportunity for new business models … for virtualising the workplace," he said.