Now that the budget has been flogged to death by fi nancial analysts, media professionals and laymen alike, do me a favour: ask your friends the world over in how many of their countries the government budget is such a big deal. In how many of these countries does the shopkeeper ask you what your expectations of the budget are days before budget day? The answer your laudable search will yield is: three or four. Out of these very few countries, in how many is it a two-hour (some years three) folkloric stage play, complete with photo shoot and herd-like behaviour, what with supportive thumping of tables by government MNAs intended to taunt opposition members, and the latter heckling, booing
and deriding in return? No prizes for the correct answer.
Two hours of monotonous reading to an exhausted audience after it has had to squeeze its work in three-quarters of a day to be able to run back home and listen to the minister announce that he has reduced taxes on shower gels, cinema tickets and vintage cars. And Xavier Duval is not the fi rst one. We have had ministers announce, with solemn seriousness, a reduction in the tax on kiwi, which translated in the fruit costing Rs4 instead of Rs5 at the time!
If the traditional folklore of tapping the Chamber counter-tops is a reliable barometer to go by, there were 15 good measures announced. Those of us who have ever made a living talking to audiences know that if you can’t drive a point across in one minute or two, you have lost your audience. So, the budget could have taken all in all a generous half an hour, no more. And, as a result, we would not have needed experts of
all descriptions and callings to unravel and explicate all the other measures, the strategic ones which are likely to make a real difference to the national lot and those not meriting loud applause.
That being said, the budget leaves a good after taste, for it contains much to look forward to, assuring us of continuity in terms of economic and fi nancial governance. And, there were no unwelcome taxes. For the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, I think the usual debate as to whether they are increased for health reasons or for increasing tax revenue is rather sterile. Research has shown that the biggest contributingfactor in reducing consumption of these items is increasing their prices and making it harder
for people to afford them. And, even if it were just to fi ll the state coffers, people who deliberately and compulsively endanger their health cannot expect other taxpayers to continue to subsidize the consequences of their harmful habits.
All in all, the minister of finance takes home a good report card. The measures announced have a strategic purport, are forward-looking and sound, particularly those which are business enabling and geared
towards technology, encouraging production and the focus on Africa, our saving grace. But they are only statements of good intentions. Implementing them takes much more than just the two hours we
spent dozing in front of our television screens. Their implementation depends on a host of public and private sector policies, ranging from air access, upgrading of our port facilities and the willingness to take risks, to investing in new technologies and training.
To what extent will the government mobilise all its resources to coordinate the efforts needed to translate some of these good intentions into tangible results? Book two hours of your time to find out next year.