No more dithering, Cyril, Tito. Give us your plan. Now

Ideas

No more dithering, Cyril, Tito. Give us your plan. Now

Their strategy is to say the right thing at the right time without details on the ‘how’. SA can no longer afford this

Journalist
President Cyril Ramaphosa and minister of finance Tito Mboweni at the budget speech at parliament in Cape Town.
HAPPY FACES President Cyril Ramaphosa and minister of finance Tito Mboweni at the budget speech at parliament in Cape Town.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his finance minister Tito Mboweni often rely on the same public relations tool – they admit to misgivings and trouble before their critics do so to avoid scrutiny about what is it they are actually doing in response.

In doing so – and admitting that a deep recession is on the cards – they get away without giving detail of what a recovery plan for the economy would look like. They are applauded for being frank. The pair say the right things, packaged in neatly folded sound bites that buy them popularity and optimism. But the “how” is never answered.

This was displayed meticulously this week when a cabinet meeting meant to bring forward a plan to revive SA’s economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic and recent ratings agencies downgrade resulted in naught. It was on day 20 of a 35-day nationwide lockdown and the government could not draft a plan to give immediate answers on how people will be saved from hunger and, broadly, how the economy would look for the next year.

The meeting was meant to give the go-ahead to the Treasury to reprioritise the budget. This would have meant that the most vulnerable South Africans would know whether their social grants would be increased. Businesses were waiting to hear about a stimulus package aimed at reigniting the economy that was already in deep trouble before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Ramaphosa created this expectation when he said to the nation last week: “Cabinet will be developing a comprehensive package of urgent economic measures to respond both to the immediate crises and to the severe economic challenges that we must confront in the months ahead.”

He added: “Further announcements on the next phase of our economic and social support strategy will be made in due course.”

Instead, a statement by cabinet indicated that no plan was agreed to and that cabinet would meet again on Monday for more discussions on the matter. “Cabinet resolved that further discussions and consultations are still required before the final consolidated plan is approved to be shared with the nation,” the statement read. In other words, they could not agree on a plan, let alone flesh out that plan.

In anticipation of the cabinet meeting, Mboweni told the media that the Treasury would be reprioritising the national budget to ensure the department of health would have enough resources.

He said the reworked budget would happen after cabinet gave the go-ahead and that he was “thinking” about increasing the social grant.

There was, however, no demonstrable plan from Mboweni on what he was taking to the cabinet for its consideration. How much was needed? What are the options on the table? Already, the slight increase offered in Mboweni’s February budget constrained the fiscus.

That budget is merely a clever piece of fantasy fiction now that the global economy has been thrown off as a result of Covid-19. But where is the detail of the revised budget? Where is the time frame? Has any work been done so far in identifying what industries can be saved? What happens to the hope for Foreign Direct Investment? And relying on tourism amid a global pandemic surely has to be relooked?

Government had 20 days to work on a plan and instead came out asking for more time. An economic recovery plan is what stands between life and death for millions of South Africans who are more at risk of hunger than they are of Covid-19. This is not the time for spectacle. The country waits for the plan.