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Sophonea to present budget on Wednesday

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Bereng Mpaki

FINANCE Minister Thabo Sophonea will table the 2021/22 budget estimates before parliament on Wednesday.

In a savingram to the clerk of the National Assembly, Advocate Fine Maema, the finance ministry’s principal secretary (PS) Nthoateng Lebona said the Mr Sophonea will present the budget speech to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate at 9am on Wednesday.

“The Minister of Finance, Mr Thabo Sophonea, will present the 2021/22 budget speech to Parliament on Wednesday 17 February 2021 at 9am,” Ms Lebona said in her savingram to Adv Maema.

“There will be a live broadcast of the event on television and radio nationwide. We humbly request your (Maema’s) good office to inform the Honourable Speaker of the House (Sephiri Motanyane) and members of the National Assembly. We also request that this event be a joint sitting for the two houses, in line with the Covid-19 protocols.”

Last year, parliament approved a M23, 8 billion for the 2020/21 financial year with then Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro emphasising the need to capacitate key sectors like agriculture, mining and manufacturing to boost economic growth.

But the hoped-for economic growth was not to be, thanks in part to the Covid-19 induced slowdown in local and global business activity.

The government was even forced to revise the budget and allocate M698 million to fight the pandemic.

This time, the figure could even be higher as government moves to procure vaccines as part of efforts to achieve herd immunity in the population and thus return the country to normal life free of frequent lockdowns and other drastic measures which have negatively affected the economic and social activities. Apart from the vaccines, the government still has to acquire more medical equipment and supplies including intensive care unit beds, oxygen and ventilators for Covid-19 patients. It will also have to set aside funds for risk allowances for frontline health workers as well as personal protective equipment to protect them from contracting the virus in their line of work.

Apart from revving the economy and funding the Covid-19 fight, all eyes will be on Mr Sophonea to see if he will award salary increments to restive civil servants who annually expect increments to cushion them against the ever-increasing cost of living.

Last year, civil servants were awarded a five percent salary increment.

In addition to the wage increment, then Finance Minister Majoro also increased the disposable real income of the lowly paid workers by marginally increasing the minimum taxable salary from M5090 per month to M5350 per month.

The year before, the government had angered civil servants by failing to award them increments for the 2019/2020 financial year. Teachers, police officers and magistrates reacted by staging waves of strikes which negatively affected service delivery.

The magistrates have a pending case in the High Court where they have petitioned the court to issue an order compelling the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions.

Nurses at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH), the country’s largest referral hospital, are currently on strike to press the government to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.

Mr Sophonea will however have to walk a fine line between meeting the civil servants’ salary expectations and the contrasting demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has steadfastly called on the government to reduce the high public wage bill as well as undertake public financial management reforms.

The IMF has also advised the government to award performance-based salary increments.

 

Apart from salary increments, vulnerable sections of the population will also be looking to the finance minister to announce measures to cushion them from the harsh economic climate.

The business sector will also be looking be looking to the minister to announce incentives to stimulate investment in the country.

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