THE country’s chief financial officer, Nhlanhla Nene, has received praise across the board for a curt, straightforward medium-term budget policy statement. This newspaper is one of those, and it is praise well-earned.

Having said that, there is something about official, bureaucratic language that obfuscates and conceals. The jargon employed and taken for granted by its specialist consumers is precisely the reason some of his message of tough love will be lost in translation, compromising the very intentions and realities of his fiscal policy declarations.

Several examples come to mind. In the case of perpetual begging bowl, Eskom, he said that the R60-billion in government loans to the utility may be "converted into equity". A clearer way of stating this would be to say the debt would be written off in order to reduce the parastatal’s overall indebtedness so that it can, wait for it, go and borrow more money from elsewhere.

Still on Eskom, the minister said that some of the billions needed would come from "tariff adjustments". It sounds nice and harmless, doesn’t it? What he was really saying is that we must look forward to even higher prices than we have had to endure. But putting it that way would be too jarring to the system so he cushioned the blow with hope-inducing language. Come to think of it, with Eskom’s balance sheet looking like a student’s bank balance, electricity prices will never come down. Unpalatable but true, and necessary.

He went further. Loans, bail-outs and guarantees to the many sinking state-owned enterprises would not be forthcoming without a sound business plan. This makes perfect sense, but there’s something in it.

First he said any such intervention would be "deficit-neutral". In English he was saying that the government would not borrow any money to throw at their problems anymore. Instead it would look at options such as selling the government’s share to raise the money needed, a hint of what is coming South African Airways’ way.

But therein lies the second point. Every intention and promise affect entrenched stakeholders who are in it for their own interests, be they ideological or the still expanding web of political patronage state-owned enterprises facilitate so well.

For instance, who decides whether or not a plan is sound? Is it Nene and his officials or is it Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown, in the case of SAA? Is it the patently unimpressive, underwhelming Faith Muthambi in the case of the SABC?

The difference this time is that his options are limited. There is no money anymore to throw at problems, so, to use normal language, he will have to host a backyard sale of items from the family treasure to raise enough money to hand out to the Zandile Tshabalalas of this world.

Let’s take the latter as an example. Less than 24 hours after Nene delivered his budget, the SABC’s now notorious chair, one Ellen Zandile Tshabalala once again avoided producing proof of the university qualifications she claims to have. This time she used a court interdict premised on a technicality to secure a reprieve from the seemingly inevitable.

A further 24 hours later her favourite charge, the broadcaster’s erstwhile chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng was on the sharp end of a Western Cape High Court judgment which ordered his suspension within 14 days. He has similar problems to his chairperson. He also faked his academic credentials in order to gain permanent employment at the broadcaster many years ago.

Now let us take Nene’s position to its logical conclusion. The SABC does not have a CEO and hasn’t had one in a long time. A person is acting in the position, but everyone knows it’s all ceremonial, the real sheriff in charge is Motsoeneng.

Between all these people in charge of the SABC Nene expects sound management, the kind which would produce a sound business plan for him to approve and loosen the purse strings when they come calling next time.

Yes, they will go begging in the foreseeable future. Just a few days ago the SABC reported irregular expenditure amounting to the measly sum of R3.3-billion in the financial year ended in March.

So the same people who oversaw the mess will be tasked with developing a way of turning the situation around. None of that turnaround plan will include the replacement of the chair with a real, competent person for the task. None of it will include an undertaking to appoint a proper chief operating officer and CEO, so Nene, despite knowing better, will have no choice but to release the money — to once again be wasted.

The difference this time is that his options are limited. There is no money anymore to throw at problems, so, to use normal language, he will have to host a backyard sale of items from the family treasure to raise enough money to hand out to the Zandile Tshabalalas of this world.

Very soon the credit rating agencies he is working so hard to impress will cotton on to the futility of his efforts. The politics, firmly outside his purview as Minister of Finance, shall triumph each time.

So, yes, it was an impressive budget policy statement. It couldn’t have been different anyway if he wanted to retain any credibility. The numbers don’t lie. The politics, however, continue to lie and produce fresh fiscal problems.

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