Source: Nobathembu Ndzengu, Elitsha News

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) opposes the austerity “stringent measures” that are being imposed by the National Treasury to restore “fiscal sustainability.” In a memorandum circulated internally to government departments, the National Treasury says the measures to restore fiscal sustainability have been triggered by the “deteriorating revenue collection” as a result of the “economic growth outlooks that have worsened.” 

The path of brutal austerity that the National Treasury has put South Africa on is regrettably because it has accepted the neoliberal fiscal framework, that is premised on taxing or borrowing before they can spend. This is despite irrefutable discoveries that countries with higher monetary sovereignty like South Africa can spend on goods priced in their local currencies without the constraint of taxation or borrowing. Hence SA’s ability to spend on locally produced and priced books for schools, infrastructure material, hiring and paying of public servants, and procurement of other goods is constrained by self-imposed limits emanating from the policy choices of the ANC government. 

The current stringent austerity measures, as part of such policies, are unnecessary. 

Impact on filling of vacancies 

One of the austerity measures proposed requires the national and provincial departments to freeze the “hiring of new employees”. The public service institutions are already understaffed, and the intermittent moratoriums on the filing of vacant posts (including this one) has had further detrimental consequences on the departments. It has constraint public institutions’ ability to deliver quality services to our people. 

Temporary freezing of vacant posts goes hand in hand with attrition/retrenchments i.e., the permanent closure of posts. Together, they are part of the fiscal austerity measures aimed at reducing the headcount in the public service. Reduction of public service 

headcount has produced Educator-to-learner ratio of 1:31 in basic education; Police-to-population ratio of 1:413; Nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:224; Doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:3 198 and a Social worker-to-patient ration of 1:5000. 

Such a dire situation of public servants compared to the population they service does not warrant any freezes, let alone reductions which are often carried as part of the fiscal consolidation National Treasury is so committed to. The more than 80 percent of the population that depends on social services deserves quality services. And such low levels of employment including vacancy freezes, combined with mismanagement and maladministration, have increasingly denied the overwhelming majority such quality services. 

Freezing contracting for infrastructure and procurement of goods 

There is infrastructure backlog across the public sector. Institutions of government such as schools, hospitals and clinics, have infrastructure shortage. To freeze procurement on infrastructure is going to adversely affect attempts to address this backlog. The severe lack of infrastructure as a result of austerity and corruption has caused overcrowding in school classrooms, lack of ablution facilities in some schools, no libraries in more than 15 000 schools, including shortage of maths and science laboratories in more than 17 000 schools. 

In hospitals, the acute effects of the lack of infrastructure have been witnessed in midwifery wards that are filled to over-capacity, with heavily pregnant women sleeping in the corridors. 

Infrastructure is closely linked to procurement of goods. In order for hospitals and clinics to function up to the optimal, procurement and supply of goods such as medical supplies, hygiene and cleaning products, etc, must correspond with demand and utility. Freezing procurement of “goods and services that have not yet been contracted,” will certainly have an impact on the smooth operations of public institutions. 

SAFTU rejects the fiscal austerity that is being imposed across government, because of an ideological framework. Government cannot run out of money to spend on domestic goods and services, priced in local currency. 

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