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African press review 26 February 2015


Today's main story in the African press is BusinessDay's overview of yesterday's budget speech by South Africa's Finance Minister. There's also a story about bribes and corruption in the Kenyan Standard...

The two main headlines on the front page of this morning's South African financial paper, BusinessDay, just about sum up yesterday's budget speech by Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Néné: "Néné targets the fiscal gap," we are told at the top of page one and just underneath we read "Néné takes a knife to government spending". Oh yes, then there's the BusinessDay editorial, headlined "Néné fails to give crucial details."

So, is this a good, bad or indifferent budget?

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Well, the Johannesburg-based paper notes that even the Economic Freedom Fighters MPs behaved themselves during yesterday's speech.

According to BusinessDay, the Finance Minister has held the line on fiscal consolidation, raising taxes to narrow the fiscal gap as the electricity crisis causes the economic outlook to deteriorate.

Two "fiscals," a "crisis" and one "deteriorate" in the same sentence: that sounds bad.

Nene has announced a one percent rise in personal income tax, the first in almost 20 years. That sounds very bad but it could have been worse.

Indirect taxation is to rise. Bad.

And both economic growth and fixed investment are predicted to stagnate. That's neither good nor indifferent.

One analyst says the budget did the right thing in terms of tax and fuel levy increases and should help South Africa to avoid a ratings downgrade. Which is moving towards good or indifferent.

However, the same dude says Nene "has not come up with a credible plan to ensure there is enough electricity". Bad, but let's not bash the Finance Minister for the failings of his colleague at Energy. Significantly, says BusinessDay, Néné made no reference to nuclear energy.

Government spending is to be slashed by the rand equivalent of two billion euros over the next two years, with departments not involved in service delivery bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Departments such as education, health, police and defence are being boosted with increases slightly ahead of inflation.

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BusinessDay says the economic environment may be the most challenging of the democratic era but the fiscal measures the minister has proposed to counter the financial headwinds are hardly radical.

The paper's editorial goes on to point out that the United Front supporters who staged a march outside Parliament demanding nationalisation and the redistribution of wealth certainly did not get what they wanted.

There was no mention in the budget of how two huge future financial commitments the government has made — national health insurance and nuclear power — will be funded.

Headline-of-the-day prize goes to the Kenyan Standard for their "Chicken scam 'mastermind' yet to be grilled."

The story is a complete disappointment, with "chicken" the Kenyan word for bribes and corruption, and the case concerns allegations of wrong-doing that no one seems anxious to investigate.

Still, never let the facts get in the way of a good headline.

The main story in The Standard reports that a Principal Secretary and a former Member of Parliament in Nairobi are among the 142 landowners who have received millions of shillings in compensation for land surrendered to the State for a new port project in Lamu.

The report continues by saying that, although 146 landowners were originally listed to share the shilling equivalent of eight million euros paid to the National Lands Commission by the Kenya Ports Authority as compensation to those affected, the number of those listed has since dropped to 142 after four names, believed to be those of prominent individuals, disappeared from the list for unknown reasons.

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Over at The Daily Nation, the main story reports that at least 15 of the 26-member Public Accounts Committee have no-confidence in their chairman, opposition Orange Democratic Movement Secretary-General, Ababu Namwamba.

The committee is to meet this morning to determine if Namwamba will keep his job as boss of the public spending overseer.

The MPs say they intend to oust Namwamba on the grounds of “serious bribery allegations touching on the integrity of the chairman and conduct of members of the committee”.

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