Johannesburg - South Africa would let debt rise to 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) if
spending was on investment, but would then tighten the purse strings once debt
reaches that level, Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene
said on Wednesday.
South Africa’s gross debt is expected to hit 43% in 2013/14
from around a third of GDP currently, but analysts are worried that large-scale
unemployment may put pressure on the government to increase welfare spending.
“We will allow it to get to 40 provided that spending takes place
where it yields the best returns,” Nene told Reuters on the sidelines of an
auditors conference in Johannesburg.
“But again, we have a countercyclical fiscal policy which says when
it gets to a certain level we actually need to exercise some restraint.”
The National Treasury will unveil its plans on how it will bring
spending under control over the next three years when it releases its medium-term budget policy statement on October 25.
The government’s GDP forecast is 3.4% for this year, 4.1% for 2012 and 4.4% for 2013. It is widely expected to cut these
targets in October.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged South Africa to stick to
its spending plans over the next three years to help contain debt.
Nene said the 4% GDP growth forecast the government has set
for the next few years was out of reach and the downside risks to the target
were “quite serious”.
His comments were in line with those from Finance Minister Pravin
Gordhan, who on Monday said the government’s growth targets were “too
Nene said South Africa’s trading partners were in turmoil and this
was hurting prospects for the biggest economy on the continent.
“We need to be realistic; the 4% is also a bit out of reach,
but we need to work hard at it.”
The government has said GDP growth needs to rise to 7% a
year on a sustained basis to make a meaningful dent on unemployment that is at
over 25% of the working force.
The poor growth prospects over the next few years mean the more
than one million people that have lost jobs since the recession in 2009 will
likely remain without work, raising the risk of social instability in the