News in South Africa 21st May:

1. Economic recovery unlikely:

Finance minister Tito Mboweni told parliament that economic recovery will remain elusive as long as incompetent administration and poor financial management at municipalities remained unresolved.

Economic recovery unlikely
Image taken by: Alvin Decena

Mboweni was speaking in the National Assembly on Thursday while outlining the policy priorities and spending plans (budget vote) of the National Treasury for the 2021/2022 financial year.

Mboweni used his speech to paint a grim picture of the state of financial management at municipal level, telling MPs that “political infighting and political interference” in administrative matters remained stumbling blocks.

The finance minister reported that there were 63 municipalities in financial distress, with 40 embroiled in financial and service delivery crises, while 102 more had adopted budgets they were unable to finance.

“We can’t speak of economic recovery and prosperity when municipalities, as agents responsible for helping government achieve these objectives, find themselves in a perpetual crisis. In the Lekwa municipal intervention, the cabinet decided on May 12 2021 to dissolve the municipal council. We hope that this form of ‘consequence management’ will send the right signal to other municipal councils.”

Mboweni said government had spent “billions of rand” developing the skills of senior municipal officials, but there was little to show for it.

“Administrative incompetence will not be tolerated. National and provincial government have to date spent billions of rand in local government capacity-building programmes. The poor performance of many municipalities shows that there was almost a zero return on that investment.”

2. Unions upset over Transnet offer:

Labour negotiations between Transnet and the two unions who represent more than 54 000 employees at the state-owned enterprise (SOE) have deadlocked after the freight utility adjusted its wage increase offer from 2% to 3%, failing to meet labour’s demand of 7%.

Steve Harris, general secretary of the United National Transport Union (Untu), said the 7% wage increase demanded across the board was non-negotiable.

Our constituents won’t accept anything lower.”

What has been accepted so far by Untu and the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), Harris added, was Transnet’s offer to employees of a non-retrenchment clause and a requirement by the SOE that organised labour sign an agreement to restructure itself within 30 days if negotiations succeeded.

Harris said Untu and, from what is known Satawu too, agreed in principle with the non-retrenchment and restructuring aspects of the negotiations.

“It’s the 3% offer that we simply cannot accept.”

One union is citing a crippling three-week strike in 2010 as a bit of history the company should keep in mind.

3. Eskom projects R15bn loss:

Eskom is projecting a net loss of over R15 billion for the 2022 financial year and average cost per head for employees has increased far above the rate of inflation for the past three years, the power utility has said.

As things stand, if it is to break even this year, the utility added, it would have to cut the cost of coal by nearly a third.

Eskom was responding on Thursday night to the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) analysis of wage tiers in the power utility, and claims by the union that Eskom was misleading the public about the average wage of employees.

According to Eskom, its offer of a 1.5% increase is based on affordability. NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) want 15%. Solidarity wants 9.5%.

Unions are further demanding a housing allowance from R3 425 to R7 000 and cellphone allowance from R500 to R1 000.

Talks are set to conclude on 3 June.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said Eskom met with the three unions at the bargaining platform talks where it rejected their demands as unaffordable.

“Eskom’s 1.5% increase in the basic salary, conditional upon the labour unions accepting Eskom’s proposed restructuring of some of the benefits enjoyed by its bargaining unit employees where excesses have been identified is the final offer. Eskom is in no position financially to meet any of the demands that have been presented,” said Mantshantsha.

4. E-toll still a mystery:

The government has once again failed to meet its self-imposed deadline set by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to make an announcement on the future of the controversial e-toll system.

Mbalula made his most recent e-tolls deadline announcement on May 6 when he told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) that a government announcement on the future of e-tolls would be made in the next two weeks.

“The decision is on the table. We expect that in the next two weeks we should be back to cabinet. “Before we [Department of Transport] table our budget vote speech, we should have gone to you [the NCOP] and the public to announce the cabinet decision on the e-tolls.

“We have to finalise this decision in the next two weeks,” he said.

The last day of the 14-day period within which Mbalula indicated an announcement would be made was Thursday (May 20) but none was forthcoming from the government.

However, cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams confirmed on Thursday that e-tolls had not been on the agenda of the cabinet meeting held on May 12.

Williams further confirmed that a cabinet meeting was not held this week and the next cabinet meeting is scheduled to take place on May 26.

Ayanda Allie Paine, spokesperson for the Transport Minister, confirmed on Thursday that Mbalula will deliver his budget vote speech on Friday but stressed that she could not pre-empt anything that he may or may not be saying in the speech.

5. Covid-19 deaths in SA:

While South Africa has seen an influx of Covid-19 cases as a third wave hits the country, official deaths attributed to the pandemic have climbed.

On Thursday (20 May), the department of health announced that an additional 61 people had died of Covid-19. This follows the reporting of 167 deaths on Wednesday, 80 deaths on Tuesday, and 50 deaths on Monday.

Weekly statistics collated by Jon Hopkins University and Our World in data shows that the country reached an inflection point at the start of May, and has seen a steady increase in mortalities since.

However, this is still well below the 750-plus deaths that were reported daily during the peak of the country’s second covid-19 wave in mid-January.

Data from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) shows that the weekly number of deaths from all causes also continued to increase in the week 9-15 May.

“The number of excess deaths of persons 1+ years from natural causes has continued to increase reaching 1,422 in Week 19 (9 – 15 May 2021), following the low in Week 11 (14-20 March) of 1,027,” the group said.

“Since 3 May 2020, there has been a cumulative total of more than 160,000 excess deaths from natural causes of persons 1+ years of age of which more than 77,000 occurred in 2021.”

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Business Insider, TimesLive, FreightNews, Fin24, and Moneyweb.

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