The man behind South Africa’s R2.4 trillion budget

Edgar Sishi has spent his life in public service, beginning his career at Eskom as a project management specialist and now being the man behind South Africa’s R2.37 trillion annual budget. 

Sishi heads the Budget Office in the National Treasury and is responsible for coordinating fiscal policy and regulating public financial management. 

His main role is to plan the expenditure for the government’s financial year, leading a team of more than 80 people to produce the national budget according to the Finance Minister’s requirements. 

Through this, Sishi oversees a critical government function: effectively outlining how South Africa’s tax revenue will be spent and how the state’s expenditure program can be financed. 

The country’s budget for the current financial year will receive just over R2 trillion in revenue and spend R2.37 trillion. 

The budget office under Sishi coordinates the national budgeting process, including coordinating and allocating resources to meet the government’s political priorities. 

While political leaders, particularly the Finance Minister, determine where this money will be spent, Sishi is tasked with turning these ideas into reality in a difficult fiscal environment. 

The division also provides fiscal policy advice, oversees expenditure planning and the national budget process, and leads the budget reform programme. 

Sishi coordinates international technical assistance and donor finance, supports public-private partnerships (PPPs), and compiles public finance statistics.

International finance organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have praised his budget office.

According to the fund’s Open Budget Index, the National Treasury is the second-best finance ministry in the world in terms of fiscal transparency. 

Despite the serious governance issues relating to state capture and widespread corruption, the National Treasury has consistently been transparent in its reporting and maintains rigorous oversight of public finances. 

In particular, the IMF praised Treasury for its comprehensive, relevant, timely, and reliable overview of the government’s financial position and performance. 

Sishi is also heavily involved in other key aspects of the country’s finances, including producing public finance statistics and arranging international development financing. 

Additionally, he plays a key role in coordinating fiscal policy and managing public investment across the national government and municipalities.

The man behind the budget

While always interested in economics, Sishi did not initially pursue a career in economics, banking, or finance.

Following his Bachelor of Economics at Rhodes University, Sishi began his career at Eskom in 1998 as an IT training and project management specialist. 

After nearly a decade at the power utility, Sishi finally transitioned into a career in economics and finance, taking up the position of Deputy Director for Local Government at the National Treasury. 

Sishi slowly worked his way up the Treasury ladder, being promoted in 2008 to Director of Provincial Budget Analysis and rising to become Chief Director in 2012. 

During his stint as Chief Director, Sishi continued his studies, completing a Master of Science in Economics from the University of London. 

After finishing his studies, Sishi spent three years as a senior advisor at the IMF, working on macroeconomic policy and global financial safety matters. 

In doing so, he joined a long list of South African financial bureaucrats in being exposed to the world’s premier financial institution and its inner workings. 

While Chief Director Sishi took on additional responsibility and was appointed acting Deputy Director-General of the National Treasury’s Budget Office in March 2020. 

In February 2022, Sishi was made permanent Deputy Director General and took over full responsibility for the 80-person team that formulates the National Budget. 

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana

Sharp criticism for government

Sishi is unique among government officials in that he is unafraid to criticise state policy and debate the merits of South Africa’s economic policy. 

Late last year, Sishi said the government’s economic policies have failed to ignite growth and that its increased spending has resulted in a fiscal crisis. 

During his presentation to Parliament following the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, Sishi dismissed calls for the government to increase spending. 

He said this policy had failed in the past to positively impact the South African economy and has instead burdened it with a massive debt pile. 

“Increased fiscal spending on servicing debt reduces funds available for social wage spending with negative implications for reducing poverty and inequality.” 

“Since the 2008 global financial crisis, higher public spending and persistent fiscal deficits have not bolstered economic growth,” Sishi said. 

Rather, South Africa’s economic problems have been caused by government’s failure to efficiently run state-owned enterprises, creating structural constraints. 

These constraints have limited economic growth and raised the cost of doing business in the country. 

“A demand-led growth strategy would be a misdiagnosis of South Africa’s growth problem because supply-side constraints in our network industries, along with weak private investment, generally explain poor economic growth performance.” 

“Expansionary fiscal policy in the face of these supply side constraints will not structurally raise economic growth, but it will instead worsen debt levels and sovereign credit risks, leading to higher inflation and debt service costs.” 


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