Government’s R330 billion fiscal gap 

The National Treasury expects the government to have a R330 billion deficit at the end of the current financial year following a continued deterioration in revenue collection and increased expenditure. 

This was revealed by the National Treasury when it released data outlining the government’s revenue, spending, and borrowing for the month of December 2023. 

The data showed a decline in revenue of R16 billion in December last year versus in 2022, leading to a smaller surplus than expected. 

On the other hand, expenditure increased by over R9 billion in the same period. This continues the trend of the government increasing spending while collecting less revenue. 

For the year-to-date, the government has overspent its income by R292.58 billion already, leading it to estimate a full-year budget deficit of just over R330 billion. 

To finance this deficit, the government will have to issue more debt and add to its already unsustainable debt pile. 

Some economists are concerned that South Africa will soon enter a debt spiral as the government has already begun to issue new debt to pay off existing debt. 

However, Citadel chief economist Maarten Ackerman said South Africa has not yet entered a debt spiral, but avoiding it will require making tough choices. 

Ackerman said a country typically enters a debt spiral when its debt-to-GDP ratio reaches 90%. South Africa’s currently sits at 77%. 

He was still deeply concerned about the announcement that the government’s debt as a percentage of the size of the economy is expected to increase to 77%. 

A study by the World Bank shows that countries whose debt exceeds 77% as a percentage of GDP for prolonged periods experience significant slowdowns in economic growth.

Ackerman said this is something the country cannot afford, given its already stagnant economy. 

“The budget has two sides, revenue and expenses, and we know that in the current situation, we are faced with a concerning budget deficit because the government is spending too much,” Ackerman said. 

“Given local structural issues and external factors like the commodities cycle and South Africa not getting the tax revenue we hoped for, the right message would have been austerity and cutting back.”

“Some of this has been mentioned, but unfortunately, the current government has not demonstrated that they can cut back on expenses – especially not ahead of the upcoming elections.” 

Ackerman said the government needed to focus more sharply on growing the economy faster, which would have allowed them to collect more taxes and could have provided the revenue needed to fix the budget shortfall.

Michael Sachs
Michael Sachs

Former head of the budget office at the National Treasury, Professor Michael Sachs, also warned that South Africa’s economic crisis is manifesting itself as a fiscal crisis.

Sachs is an adjunct professor and head of the Public Economy Project at the University of Witwatersrand’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. 

He previously told Parliament that Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana had effectively created an entirely new budget in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement.

“South Africa’s economic growth crisis is manifesting as a fiscal crisis and austerity measures, which have been ineffective in stabilising debt over the last ten years,” he said.

Spending cuts contribute towards lower aggregate demand, lower growth and a weakened state. It is also unlikely that debt can be stabilised while GDP per capita continues to fall.

This crisis is deepening due to South Africa’s poor economic performance, high interest rates, and global uncertainty. 

Sachs’ comments follow concerns over the credibility of the Treasury’s fiscal consolidation plans expressed by the Financial and Fiscal Commission earlier this week. 


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