JOHANNESBURG - Higher education is the big winner in Wednesday’s budget‚ receiving an additional R57-billion over the next three years to provide for free university education for poor and working-class students.
This was the single biggest change to the budget since February last year‚ making further education and training the fastest growing item in the budget at 13.7 percent.
But on the spending side it was poor communities that were the biggest losers‚ with cuts made to public entities like the Passenger Rail Service of SA (Prasa), and infrastructure grants to provinces and municipalities savaged.
At a provincial level this will mean cuts to school building programmes, school infrastructure upgrades, low-cost housing budgets, and the maintenance of provincial roads.
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At a local government level‚ the municipal infrastructure grant is to be cut‚ which includes spending on the provision of bulk water‚ local roads and public lighting. Grants for electrification‚ urban development and public transport have also been slashed.
The Budget Review notes that “the cuts will delay the completion of a number of infrastructure projects”.
The expenditure cuts over the next three years amount to R85-billion, with the lion’s share -- R57-billion --coming from the delay or scrapping of national programmes and transfers to public entities.
Apart from Prasa‚ other agencies that are to suffer from reduced budget allocations are the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) and several water boards.
The largest category of expenditure (R246.8-billion) remains basic education‚ which will only just keep pace with inflation with a 6.8 percent overall increase‚ followed by health at R205-billion, which increases at an annual rate of 7.8 percent.
However‚ with wages for public servants growing at 7.3 percent a year‚ both health and education will battle to keep funding for their various programmes at current levels.