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Updated: Jun 29, 2022

2022 marks the 5th year since President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his inaugural State of the Nation Address (SoNA) and two years since the country was placed under Covid-19 lockdown. The President has been making commendable efforts in budget and policy commitments to address perennial social, economic and fiscal challenges beleaguering South Africa. In the 2017 SoNA, the President announced, among other things: government plans to create 1 million jobs through the Youth Employment Service program, to kick start free higher education to learners with household income below R350 000 per annum, to review the number and sizes of national government department and to set-up numerous Commissions to fast-track service delivery and investigate state institutional maladies such as the Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, SARS Tax Administration Commission and the Presidential Economic Advisory Council.

At the back of deteriorating fiscal situation (widening deficit and rising debt) and the broader public maladministration challenges at State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), the 2018 SoNA focused on efforts to improve the investment climate through initiatives such as the Investment Conference targeting to attract R1.2 trillion in 5 years, revitalisation of industrial parks, the commencement of the R100 billion infrastructure fund and localisation program. These initiatives were meant to create 275 000 jobs per annum. On the delivery front, the President hinted at plans to shift the ECD function from the Department of Social Development to Basic Education, to provide each school leaner with a digital workbook within six years and to build 500 000 new (RDP) houses over the 2018 Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF).

The outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic left the global economy and that of South Africa, in particular, reeling from the devastating health and economic impact, with more than 50 000 people succumbing to the virus while over 1.7 million lost their jobs. The resulting economic contraction necessitated unprecedented social and economic relief interventions and an economic recovery agenda straddling the 2020 and 2021 programs of action. The recovery is primarily premised upon a R500 billion relief package comprising a combination of grants, health interventions and tax credits, and publicly-funded Presidential Employment Stimulus. Notwithstanding the good intentions espoused in the SoNA, the data and evidence from selected reviews, including the Auditor General (AG) report on the relief package, suggest that the impact is frustrated by inefficiencies, corruption and maladministration. The economic growth rate remains muted at the level last seen in 2017, deteriorating to 2016, and unemployment has skyrocketed to 34%. The primary budget balance is 4 points higher than in 2017, and the public service delivery record remains weaker.

Casting the eyes to the 2022 SoNA, it becomes apparent that a bucketful of policy and budget commitments needs to be complemented by the requisite attuned state delivery machinery to meet its noble aspirations. Therefore the 2022 SoNA is rightfully focused on rooting corruption, eliminating fiscal administrative leakages, building and strengthening delivery capacity, and the associated accountability levers to enforce and sanction poor performance. Translating SONA ambitions into action requires reorganisation of delivery structures, systems and processes, as numerous FFC recommendations. The reforms will ensure that priorities are procedurally identified, matched to the budget and monitored through performance management systems. Without such reforms, there is a risk that priorities constantly shift and budget focus becomes diluted in favour of new initiatives (as and when they arise).

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