The difficulties facing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as he tries to “fix” South Africa “post-Zuma”, and at the same time prepare for and contest an important elections in early May, were underlined by a very constrained budget, as presented in parliament this week.
The budget in itself is largely domestically-focused and not that interesting to outsiders.
But what is interesting is that, despite warnings from ratings agencies about South Africa approaching an accumulated “debt trap” at nearly 60 percent of Gross Domestic Product owed in sovereign debt and under-written debts of national utilities like troubled national power-producer Eskom, the budget will still run over revenues by some US$17.35 billion at current exchange rates.
This means South Africa is in effect borrowing about US$100 million per working day of the year, just to get by.
That is a huge gamble — Moody’s still holds South Africa on an investment grade (albeit the lowest before “junk” status) but avoiding another downgrade is critical to the cost of interest on the national debt.
It is also vital to the ability of Ramaphosa’s administration to spend money on job-creating infrastructure, housing for the poor, and improved service delivery at municipal and regional levels — all important issues for the ruling African National Congress’s (ANC’s) historic constituency — which is already severely constrained.
To have some short-term popularity, a much more expenditure-oriented budget may have been expected, though the cost would certainly have had to be paid post-elections for that.
Instead, Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni have opted for a “conservative” approach focused on cutting government expenditure, especially with respect to the bloated public service, which has blown out in 10 years from 30,000 to 47,000 employees.
The unions are, to say the least, not happy.
This is bad news for the ANC which traditionally has had an enormous bloc of support from unions in the form of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU), one of its key allies.
Now, with some elements in the SA Communist Party — the third leg in the so-called “tripartite alliance” which jointly rules SA with the ANC at its head — joining with angry unionists who feel Ramaphosa is “selling them out”, the ANC has a tough battle ahead just to get its own constituencies to come out and vote.
Worse than that is the fact the ANC has, since coming out of the apartheid era 29 years ago, relied heavily on the grassroots organisational strength of COSATU to mobilise at local level across the country, hold rallies and marches and bring out the voters on voting day.
Much of that strength has dwindled away under the combined impacts of falling union membership of COSATU, the emergence of a new more radical national federation of unions which will not back the ANC at the polls and the weakening of the political bonds which hold the ruling alliance together.
Also, there is widespread disenchantment with the ANC because of 25 years of non-racial rule that has yet to deliver on many of the promises to voters of a quarter of a century ago when the ANC came to power.
A substantial stay-away of former of potential ANC voters is likely to make a big difference in the poll results.
Much of the ANC’s renewed appeal to ordinary South Africans has rested on the person of Ramaphosa himself, along with his ability to re-inspire his party’s restive and wavering support base that he and his party can deliver on its promises of a better life for all.
But with a much-constrained budget that looks to left-leaning critics more like a sop to Western bankers and ratings agencies than the “radical economic transformation” offered by former President Jacob Zuma and his faction in the ruling party, the Ramaphosa government has had little to no room for manoeuvre.
It is a painful pill to swallow but Ramaphosa and his ANC have no choice if they are not going to sacrifice the country to short-term electioneering.
What is not clear is if “Joe and Jane Average” on the streets will appreciate the wisdom and necessity of what has been done with respect to how the Ramaphosa administration is planning on working SA out of its Zuma-induced debt crisis.
It may be that Ramaphosa and his team have done the right thing by the country, but that they will likely be paying for it come election day on May 8, just over two months away.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
Get breaking news on your Mobile as-it-happens. SMS ‘NEWS’ to 20153
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.