Tito Mboweni has gone where previous finance ministers have feared to tread -- slashing the public wage bill. The political landmines are about to explode.
The numbers behind the public sector wage cuts are simple. To balance its books, the government needs to chop R160.2-billion from public servants so expenditure comes closer to revenue.
Again, the numbers are simple. Debt service costs are the fastest-rising expenditure item, by 12.3% to R229-billion in 2020, or 15.2% of the R1.95-trillion budget. And borrowing keeps on rising -- to R497.5-billion in 2023 from R407.3-billion in 2020, that was up by just short of R72-billion from just 2019 -- because South Africa spends more than its income.
But Budget politics are never simple.
And while Finance Minister Tito Mboweni indicated in the traditional pre-Budget media briefing that he had political support for his Budget reforms, his Cabinet colleagues who must spearhead the public sector wage cuts were even less forthcoming.
Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi referred questions to Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu, who in turn told Daily Maverick:
"For now, we are not making any statements on that (public wage bill cuts) except to say we are engaging."