South Africa: Tito Mboweni's Balancing Act On a Very Slack Budget Tightrope

South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in September 2019.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni delivers his budget on 26 February 2020 at a time when South Africa is in a state of fiscal purgatory. A glimmer of hope is that he may yet surprise us by taking the axe to state-owned enterprises and curbing the public service wage bill.

Tabling the medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) in October 2019, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said that hope is not a strategy. Now, days before he delivers the 2020 budget, we have to ask whether he has something more than this truism to offer.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that the government will announce plans that have any prospect of delivering the country from the fiscal purgatory into which their policies have led us.

The October 2019 MTBPS sets out in broad outline what the minister of finance and the Cabinet are thinking about key macro-economic variables: how fast the economy is growing, how much money government needs to run its operations and achieve its goals, how much tax it will collect, and, to the extent that there is a gap between taxes and spending, how much it will have to borrow.

For those who don't remember, the MTBPS painted...

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