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PROVINCIAL BUDGET

Western Cape tries to balance national budget cuts with ‘protecting the vulnerable’

Western Cape tries to balance national budget cuts with ‘protecting the vulnerable’
Western Cape MEC for Finance Mireille Wenger. (Photo: Sune Payne)

The Western Cape government plans to protect basic services and support departments while trying to absorb budget cuts, said Finance MEC Mireille Wenger.

Western Cape MEC for finance Mireille Wenger said the budget she tabled in the provincial legislature on Thursday struck a difficult balance between “protecting the essentials for the poor and vulnerable” and prioritising key interventions that would take the province into its desired future.

Wenger delivered her R255.29-billion 2024 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) – the province’s budget for the next three years – in the legislature chambers in central Cape Town, to constant interventions from the opposition ANC benches.

w cape budget nkondlo

Opposition party member Nomi Nkondlo said the province needed to dip into reserves in a time of economic constraints. (Photo: Sune Payne)

Other opposition parties including the Freedom Front Plus, the EFF, Al Jama-ah and Good were not physically present, with some opting to follow proceedings on a virtual platform.

Wenger raised the key issue of ongoing budget cuts faced by the provincial government.

During his State of the Province Address in February, Premier Alan Winde slammed budget cuts to key departments such as health after reduced allocations from the national government. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Alan Winde decries ‘catastrophic’ budget cuts and says health workers ‘real heroes’

Health services

On health, Wenger said the province would allocate R80.12-billion to the Department of Health and Wellness. This would be spent on “primary healthcare, home and community-based care, mental health services, psychiatric hospitals, TB health services and acute and transitional care in poor communities”.

“R3.96-billion has been allocated over the 2024 MTEF, including a new acute psychiatric care unit at the Khayelitsha hospital,” said Wenger.

Energy

Wenger addressed South Africa’s energy crisis: “While we’re painfully aware that the persistent power cuts fall squarely at the feet of national government, we will not sit idly by while the economy of the Western Cape is turned on and off as Eskom sees fit.”

Wenger said the province was “on a mission to ensure the availability of affordable, reliable electricity supply, upon which the economy relies”.

She said R759.20-million was allocated over three years to increase energy resilience in the province.

“I am pleased to confirm that R153-million is allocated specifically for the installation of solar PV for schools and provincial health facilities,” she said. 

Safety 

In her speech, Wenger said: “It is a sad reality that, as South Africans, we all share the deep and real fear of falling victim to crime, and we take the reduction of crime in the province extremely seriously.”

She said the province would continue to work hard to make the Western Cape “safer for all those who live here”. 

R1.06-billion was allocated to continue the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan programme, while R2.28-billion will be spent on improving policing through the oversight of the SA Police Service, the resourcing of provincial policing functions and the capacitation of community-based safety partnerships. 

Impact of budget cuts, debts

The spectre of countrywide state budget cuts, debt levels and economic constraints loomed large during Wenger’s speech.

She said Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s Budget Speech showed “that government debt service costs will increase from 20.8% of revenue in 2023/24 to 21.1% in 2026/27, meaning that South Africa will spend an astounding R1.06-billion a day on servicing its debt”.

According to Wenger, what the government spent in one day on debt servicing could “employ 1,126 educators, 992 professional nurses, staff nurses and nursing assistants and 125 social workers for an entire year in the Western Cape.

“In South Africa today, we are very short on cash and extremely large on debt.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Debt, taxes and a Sarb lifeline: What you need to know about Budget 2024 

Due to fiscal consolidation, the Western Cape government’s budget was significantly reduced by R6.36-billion over the 2024 MTEF, she said.

“It means that this province is forced to pull back on, or even cut, some key plans, leaving no choice but to slow down or freeze hiring in key positions and departments, all of which come with very difficult human and social consequences,” said Wenger.

Not all doom

Wenger highlighted new initiatives such as the jobseekers’ voucher, which will allow young people to use vouchers to travel to find work.

“We understand that the cost of transport is an obstacle too many young jobseekers face,” said Wenger, adding that R7.5-million had been allocated in 2024/25 to make 180,000 “Gold Cards” available for improved access to job opportunities. 

Reaction

DA Western Cape budget spokesperson, Deidré Baartman, said the party welcomed its tabling.

“Over 75% of the R255.29-billion provincial budget over the three-year MTEF period will be spent on services and infrastructure that benefit our most vulnerable residents,” said the party that governs the province.

After the sitting, ANC shadow MEC for finance, Nomi Nkondlo, told Daily Maverick that provincial reserves should be used to boost the budget to help create jobs. DM

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