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New SAA bailout package shows government is not committed to transformation

With low economic growth prospects, ever-increasing unemployment and destitution, government appears to be more concerned with the useless prestige and status that comes with our national airline, than the wellbeing of the South African people.

In mid-July, EWN reported finance minister Malusi Gigaba saying that “too much money has been invested in cash-strapped South African Airways (SAA) in the form of guarantees and bailouts” and that government was going to seriously try to waste no more resources on “inefficient state-owned entities”. In an about-face, Gigaba now says that Treasury is considering a R13 billion bailout for the national carrier. 

Proposing such a bailout in the midst of a tax shortfall is evidence of government’s deep-seated contempt for the people of South Africa and a preoccupation with satisfying its short-term and short-sighted ambitions. Its intention to introduce more and more taxes to finance programmes like the National Health Insurance (NHI) is mindboggling, let alone the proposal made earlier this year that, in addition to television licences, it would consider requiring licenses for other devices to boost revenue for the national broadcaster. The Davis Tax Committee too is considering increasing wealth taxes. 

These desperate attempts to get its hands on more revenue are unnecessary in the face of the most obvious solution – significant tax transformation – and dangerous, in that it is unlikely that businesses, especially small ones, can survive for much longer in such an environment. Companies like General Motors and AngloAmerican already have either left our shores or are in the process of reducing their investments.

ANC MP Pinky Kekana proposes that, to help our national carrier, government intervene and give to SAA air routes currently operated by other, profitable airlines. For her, this would be radical economic transformation. By what logic could forcing the productive and efficient private sector, which creates unquantifiable wealth for millions of people every minute of every day, to yield to the ineffective and bloated dinosaurs of the public sector radically transform anything? South Africans already find more affordable and higher-quality travelling products with foreign airlines. Even domestically, it is estimated that SAA contributes less than a quarter of commercial air travel.

If government wants more money, it should look to decreasing taxes and repealing regulations across the board to allow significant economic growth to occur. In turn, more South Africans will become taxpayers and contribute to the national purse. But, even if this should happen, the national purse should not be an ATM for state companies that have proven time and time again that they are unable to stand on their own two feet in the market. Both SAA and Eskom have been given repeated opportunities to become profitable, but each ‘second chance’ ends with yet another ‘turnaround’ strategy. These companies are lost causes which South African taxpayers are propping up with no benefit to themselves, and certainly none to the poor.

Radical economic transformation would be to get rid of wealth sucking, economy strangling state-owned enterprises that are firmly rooted in the social engineering logic of the apartheid regime to fulfil, as the first apartheid labour minister Ben Schoeman explained, “State control on a large scale” that replaces personal responsibility with a “system of State responsibility.” 

There will be no radical economic transformation while government and state-owned enterprises get first dibs on the hard-earned produce of the people. The people have a natural right to keep what they earn, and government is under an obligation to spend what it takes from the people wisely. What we are seeing now, however, is a commitment by government to itself, and not to the people.

Martin van Staden is Legal Researcher at the Free Market Foundation and Academic Programs Director of Students For Liberty in Southern Africa

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