TAC Response to Budget

TAC Welcomes Increases in HIV/AIDS and Social Welfare Spending by Treasury Department 

But Some Missed Opportunities 

Minister Trevor Manuel's 2003 budget contains a number of positive commitments. TAC welcomes the 12% increase in the health budget from R34.9 to R39.1 billion and the 15% increase in the Welfare and Social Security budget from R42 billion to R48.7 billion. The Treasury has earmarked R3.3 billion towards HIV/AIDS over three years, a sufficient amount to rollout mother-to-child transmission prevention, post-exposure prophylaxis for rape-survivors and to begin an antiretroviral treatment programme. The 14% increase of the child support grant to R160 and its extension up to and including the age of 13, to be phased in over the next three years, will make a significant difference to many poor families.  Increased funding towards free basic services, the school feeding scheme and educational materials are also welcome. The increase in the old age pension by 9% is, however, too small, given the current rate of inflation. TAC supports the call of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) coalition. While South Africa's current welfare and social security system is still far short of the demands of the BIG coalition,  this year's budget has taken significant steps towards extending social welfare benefits.

Concerns

We have a number of concerns. The biggest threat to development in South Africa, as noted by the recent ANC conference, is HIV/AIDS. It is therefore a lost opportunity that Minister Manuel gave little attention to HIV/AIDS in his speech. Another concern is that secondary school students will neither be able to access state school feeding schemes nor the extended child support grant. The increased social spending announced by Minister Manuel is cause for hope, however given the 10%  CPIX  in 2002, exacerbated by high food and medical inflation, these commitments are likely to have a modest effect on reducing poverty.  Inflation is expected to drop over the next three years, but it will still be necessary to continue increasing social spending by similar, or even larger, proportions over the next few years. Given the government's satisfaction with the country's macroeconomic state and that the Treasury collected a surplus, we believe there was an opportunity to allocate more  money to social spending this year.

HIV/AIDS Spending

A breakdown of the R3.3 billion additional HIV/AIDS spending is given by the Treasury in its publication, Estimates of National Expenditure. R1.7 billion has been allocated to the Health Department  over the three year medium framework period, of which R1.35 billion is for provincial deparments. The remaining R1.6 billion has been spread over a number of other social services.

The Treasury states that the additional HIV/AIDS funding has been allocated for life-skills education in schools, condom distribution, prevention and community mobilisation programmes, voluntary counselling and testing, home-based care and faster rollout of mother-to-child transmission prevention (pg. 329, Estimates of National Expenditure). Critically, it further states, "Provincial allocations are strengthened over the medium term to ensure not only that health services generally can cope with increased demand as a result of the disease, but also that appropriate treatment and care can be provided as policy develops. Investigations on the introduction of a national anti-retroviral programme are far advanced, and recommendations are close to finalisation." This is a very welcome statement and reflects a crucial part of the NEDLAC framework agreement. 

The Treasury's HIV/AIDS allocation and its comments in the Budget documentation indicate that this government department realises the need for the implementation of treatment programmes, including antiretroviral therapy. However, there is confusion on what  the Department of Health's position is on this issue so that the TAC remains concerned as to whether or not government has truly committed to antiretroviral therapy. Only a detailed clarification of how the additional funds will be spent will allay fears that government will continue to stall treatment opportunities.

We ask the Department of Health to confirm that antiretroviral therapy will be rolled out pending the outcome of a costing study being conducted jointly by a committee established by the Treasury and Health Departments.  This will remove confusion and begin the process of rebuilding good will and trust between civil society and the Department of Health. Only, if a firm committment is made in this regard, can TAC reconsider its civil disobedience campaign. In this regard, we urge government to return to NEDLAC so that the framework agreement on a treatment and prevention plan can be signed as soon as possible. Based on the above comments by Treasury, TAC can see no further reason why the NEDLAC agreement should not be signed, because it closely resembles what appears to be government policy.

[ENDS]