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Photo caption: Pravin Gordhan’s 2018 Budget Speech (photo credit: www.gosouth.co.za)

Government’s shifting and restated emphasis, as listed below, MUST include Persons with Disability (PWD):

1. Dignity and equality.
2. Analogue to digital TV.
3. Economic growth in the following areas:

a. R3.9Bn for SMME’s and co-operatives.

b. R1.9Bn for Broadband implementation in public buildings and schools in eight NHI pilot districts.

c. R3.9Bn for CSIR.

d. R0.5Bn for tourism promotion.

e. R300Bn by 2020 for agriculture development and land reform.

f. R37Bn for Higher Education.

g. R240Bn on Basic Education.

4. Reform of TVET colleges to meet market needs.
5. Private and Public investment in new technologies that help build a modern and diversified portfolio.
6. Increased opportunities to build livelihoods.
7. Fastest growing spending categories are health, social and community development.
8. Three new conditional grants will take effect to expand access to:
9. Early Childhood Development.
10. Increased employment of social workers.
11. Improved opportunities for learners with profound disabilities.
12. Improved asset management, including adherence to spending 8% of the value of assets on their maintenance.
13. Improved education is a CENTRAL priority.
14. IDC, Land Bank and Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) are steadily expanding their financing of agricultural and municipal infrastructure.
15. Further consultations are currently taking place on the tax on sugary beverages. Arising from these discussions, and working closely with the Department of Health, the proposed design has been revised to include both intrinsic and added sugars. The tax will be implemented later this year once details are finalised and the legislation is passed.
16. To expand the integrated school health programmes, including provision of spectacles and hearing aids.
17. To improve services for people with disabilities including provision of assistive devices.
18. Limpopo Central Hospital and the new medical school of the University of Limpopo.
19. Procurement authorities are now empowered to set clear targets to promote black-owned and women-owned businesses, participation of youth and disabled persons.

How does our sector respond to and potentially benefit from the shifting and restated government emphases listed above? Some thoughts below:

1. Pursue initiatives that assure degrees of self-reliance and independence, for example, physiotherapy.
2. We have already seen how consistently from year to year our sector outperforms the general populace on this front and we must continue to grow on these achievements and progress. The blindness sector’s youth should become a growing academic elite both at a secondary and tertiary level.
3. We must continue to pursue with the Department of Labour (DOL), Workshops for the Blind in rural areas.
4. We MUST have clear motivated programmes that can take advantage of the listed expenditure and development programmes, especially co-operatives, including the provision of boreholes to sustain agricultural projects.
5. We must continue to pursue initiatives with the CSIR to benefit our sector, like the recent launch of the SAnote.
6. We must also pursue initiatives that expose our member organisations to benefit from tourism, especially through arts and crafts. We are already actively engaged with various departments including the Department of Arts and Culture.
7. We sincerely hope that an urgent allocation out of the extra R5 billion or out of the total of R37 billion for Higher Education is allocated to Optima College.
8. We don’t see the spending growth in social development directly in either the increase in social grants from R1510 to R1600 (an increase of only 5.96%) or in improved service delivery.
9. Bearing in mind that certain forms of sugar may cause or aggravate the onset of certain types of diabetes which may cause or aggravate certain types of blindness, the question remains as to where the revenues from this tax will be spent.
10. Council too must strive to achieve improved asset management. At very least we must try to spend 8% of the value of assets on their maintenance. In the private sector they work on 12% typically, depending on the nature of the asset.
11. Optima College must strengthen its offering or if it is not able to do so affordably, then it must re-examine its evolving role in our sector and the South African economy as a whole.
12. Our efforts to secure funding from IDC, Land Bank and DBSA at a Council level have proven difficult to date.
13. In respect of school health programmes; Council through the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness has already positioned itself well with many programmes already delivered in association with private corporate funders. Bureau’s future in this service category will be determined by the State’s willingness to work with independent agencies, like the Bureau, with a proven track record versus trying to duplicate these services on its own.
14. We hope that the medical infrastructure developments in Limpopo will specifically allow for the training of visually impaired physiotherapists.
15. We hope the expenditure on Basic Education includes the much needed and promised development at our SEN schools, and most specifically at Rivoni School for the Blind. We further hope this provides for the delivery of text books to all our learners.
16. It is important that all targets are enforced, not merely set, but achieved!

In closing. Multinational corporations continue to use inconsistencies in global tax rules to their advantage and to avoid tax liabilities. South Africa intends to sign a multilateral instrument this year which will assist in the updating of treaties and will reduce the scope for aggressive tax avoidance activities. This continues to be the biggest ill in our society today, where those that have, refuse to pay their fair share of tax. Seeing their exploitation of the consumer and/or the poor as their entitlement and then not even willing to pay their fair share of tax on it.

This is the time for activists, workers, businesspersons, the clergy, professionals and citizens at large to actively engage in shaping the transformation agenda and ensuring that we do have a just and equitable society. And we as the blindness sector have our own advocacy role to play.

We also need to consider, in the face of such intractable economic hardships and disparities, whether we should supplement our Constitutional Bill of Rights with a “Charter of Economic Rights” – a charter that would bind all of us to an economy which:

  • Provides access to decent and well remunerated jobs,
  • Facilitates training and retraining of citizens in the face of technological change, and
  • Creates a supportive environment for micro, small and medium businesses and co-operatives.
  • Supports equitable education that empowers us all to do what we dare to dream.
  • Has a strong justice system with effective and sustainable punitive measures against those that would subvert:
    • First the equitable expenditure within the economy (through the elimination of price and tender fixing).
    • Second the equitable redistribution (through taxes) of wealth.

We can draw inspiration from Inkosi Albert Luthuli, when he says:

“I believe that here in South Africa with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern for democracy. There is a challenge for us to set a new example for all. Let us not side-step this task.” We cannot achieve this without the immediate comments above being achieved.

For a more detailed report with comments on the Budget, click here.