Education still a priority for government: Minister Nene

Pretoria – South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene says education is still a top priority and it features prominently in the upcoming 2016/17 budget.

“The challenges that we confront as a country range from those that we know to the ones that might arise unexpectedly at times.  Education is not one of those that are only arising now. It’s one of those that government has actually been focusing on for a period of time.

“If you look at our budget that has tremendously been growing in that space, it shows that government has been committed to treating education as a priority. The recent spate of events were precipitated by universities’ proposal of increasing funds in the 2016/15 financial year. The budget for the 2016/17 financial year will have to take this into account,” said Minister Nene at The New Age business briefing recently.

The Minister’s comments come after students from different universities protested against tuition fee increases for the 2016 academic year.

President Jacob Zuma recently announced that there will be no fee increases for 2016. He met with vice-chancellors, chairpersons of university councils, presidents of student representative councils and representatives of student organisations.

Minister Nene said that the task team set up by government is working on the matter.

“The outcome of the task team is going to inform how we are going to find resources in order to do this. We are in this with the universities themselves. We are in this as government, which is our responsibility to find resources to finance all public expenditure,” said Minister Nene.

Mid-term budget

Minister Nene used the occasion to reflect on the recently tabled Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS). He said the mini-budget, as it is commonly known, provided a “rear-view mirror” opportunity since the tabling of the budget in February.

“It is also an opportunity for us to lay the foundation towards our upcoming budget.  It spells out what government and its policies have done, what government plans to do and how government plans to address the challenges that confront us,” he said.

The three challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality are still at the centre of what government does.

“During these tough times, it becomes even more critical that we find (new) ways. We are adjusting to the new normal because it is clear that we’re going to live through this phase of poor economic conditions, both domestically and internationally, for a period of time to come.

“The thrust of the MTBPS was that we are staying the course of continuing on sustaining the progress that we’ve made even during this time of difficult economic environment,” he said.

The Minister’s comments were echoed by South African Revenue Service (SARS) Commissioner Tom Moyane, who said that during these difficult times, the collection of revenue is linked with the economic performance of the country.

“With the global economic slowdown, we are (all) affected. Having revised the budget by R7.6 billion from R1.08 trillion, it means that the economy is not growing. As SARS, we saying that it’s important for us to look at other avenues of closing the leaks that are there in the economy.

“We have to collect as much debt as possible and at the same time we need to bring to the table the issue of tax morality. All South Africans need to pay their taxes so that the State can make South Africa a better place to live in,” said Commissioner Moyane.

Supporting small business

Minister Nene also spoke of the need to support small business, saying that big business has a responsibility to pull up small business. “It’s in the interest of the business environment for small business to flourish,” he said.

SARS, said Commissioner Moyane, has established small business desks at its branches to assist small businesses to grow.

The briefing also touched on the issue of introducing a wealth tax, a matter Commissioner Moyane said was tricky to deal with.

“We have in excess of about 18 million tax payers and out of that, seven or eight million are the ones paying the major part of the tax. We’d like to draw as much efficiency in that space.”

According to Minister Nene, South Africa has a very progressive tax system.

“As a country, we have a very progressive tax system and I think the other part of it lies in the redistributive nature of our fiscal framework in general,” he said. –

November 2015
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