- Tight financial control measures, only essential activities to get funding
- Support for poor to continue accessing basic services maintained
The Free State government will spend nearly three quarters of revenue on the social sector cluster, under a budget unveiled this week that seeks to reign in expenditure, while ensuring the poor and vulnerable continue to access to health, education and other basic services.
Tabling the 2016/17 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) or budget before the provincial legislature on Tuesday, finance MEC Elzabe Rockman said as with the rest of the country the Free State had been badly affected by the global slowdown in economic activity that has caused a drop in available funds and resources.
Echoing finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who last month announced a national budget that contained several cost-cutting measures, Rockman said the provincial government will over the next three years strictly watch expenditure, doing away with the not so necessary and rechanneling saved funds to essential needs.
“We developed cost containment measures in addition to those recommended and or prescribed by national government,” Rockman told the legislature that sat at the Bloemfontein City Hall for the occasion.
“This has ensured that we limit the growth of spending on non-core programmes and expenditure items,” she said.
But Rockman did not allow the need to save money to outweigh the government’s responsibility to provide social development services that enhance human development and help cushion the poor and other less fortunate members of society from the worst effects of a slowing down economy.
The MEC allocated R22.909 billion or 74.3 percent of the R30.840 billion that provincial government is going to spend over the next 12 months to the social sector cluster comprising the departments of education, health, social development, and sport, arts, culture and recreation.
These are the departments that play the lead role in implementing government social protection programmes and measures targeted at the poor and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, people with disabilities and victims of violence and abuse.
The MTEF projections over a three-year period show that the social sector departments will again get the lion’s share of the 2017/18 budget that Rockman estimated at R32.871 billion as well as in 2018/19 when she said the government will spend R34.946 billion.
Giving a breakdown of what each of the social sector departments will get, Rockman said she had allocated R12.06 billion to the department of education for the 2016/17 financial year – the largest chunk received by any department.
The funds given to education will, among other things, be used to bankroll no-fee schools that are attended by children of the poor.
The money will also be used to pay for learner/teacher support materials, expansion of grade R enrolment and for programmes to support grade 12 students.
Rockman allocated R9.048 billion to the department of health for the 2016/17 financial year, money she said will ensure the department is able to deliver on the key health outputs under the National Development Plan (NDP).
The NDP seeks to achieve an increase in life expectancy; a decrease in maternal and child mortality, while escalating the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB.
The department of social development was allocated R1.145 billion for use this current financial year.
Rockman said the funds given to the department would be used to provide: “social services for the poor, the vulnerable and those with special needs.
“Furthermore, the allocation provides for improving the quality of child care and protection services, care for older person, substance abuse and interventions, victim of abuse support and the provision of shelter for homeless persons.”
The funds allocated to the department of sport, arts, culture and recreation will be used to further government programmes to promote social cohesion, unity and nation building, according to Rockman.
The money will also be used to pay for projects by the department to build or refurbish stadiums in Kroonstad, Sasolburg, Odendaalsrus and Welkom as well as heroes’ parks in Thaba Nchu and Parys, she said.
The department was given R655.128 million for the 2016/17 year, which will drop to R641. 03 million in 2017/18 but increases to R672.645 million in the 2018/19 year.
While she gave the biggest portion of the budget cake to the social sector, Rockman also paid significant attention to the economic and infrastructure cluster that plays a key role in promoting economic growth and job creation.
The economic and infrastructure cluster which has the departments of agriculture and rural development, economic development, public works and infrastructure, police, roads and transport, human Settlements and the provincial public entities received more than R6.648 billion or 21.5 percent of the total budget for the 2016/17 financial year.
Agriculture and rural development received R745.825 million for the year, while economic development got R493.548 million.
The department of human settlements was allocated R1.335 billion, public works and infrastructure was allocated R1.486 billion. Police, roads and transport was allocated R2.586 billion. The governance and administration cluster which comprises the office of the premier, provincial treasury, cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) departments as well as the Free State Legislature got a total of R1.272 billion to spend in the 2016/17 period.
From that amount, the office of the premier received R309.644 million and Cogta received R407.596 million. The treasury was allocated R326.766 million and the legislature got R228.232 million.
On spending cuts, Rockman said the provincial government had already started introducing cost containment measures and will be looking at more ways of spending less over the next three years.
The MEC said she had, ahead of the budget presentation, asked the different departments to find ways of cutting costs before the measures were imposed on them.
“We have given them targets and we have already taken that money out… it’s not theoretical,” she told journalists during a media briefing.
Rockman said one of the key focus areas for cost cutting in the new financial year which begins on April 1 will be the downward management of the wage bill across all the departments with a view to redirect funds to other key priorities.
“Some of the measures that will be undertaken include the continuation of head counts and implementation of corrective measures, the review of organisational structures with a view to eliminate redundant positions, restricting the filling of non-critical and contract appointments and the proactive management of incapacity leave and overtime,” said Rockman.
“There will be no new appointments unless otherwise it is entirely critical,” she said.
She said there were still instances of unverified officials but these could not be described as ghost employees because they might not be at work for a variety of reasons such as being on normal sick-leave, maternity leave, long term incapacity leave or family responsibility leave.