Finance minister Trevor Manuel's caution has allowed South Africa to ride the global economic storm better than it would have under a more relaxed regime, but the rainy day he was planning for did arrive sooner than expected, treasury director-general Lesetja Kganyago said.
Speaking to Sowetan yesterday as the treasury staff prepared to sign off the draft budget review document for printing later today, Kganyago insisted South Africa faced no risk of recession.
He said South Africa had been saved, in part, by last year's decision to implement a structural budget balance measuring the fiscal bottom line on the basis of fundamentals, with one-off influences stripped out.
Temporary positive balances would be saved, Manuel said, to bolster the economy when the cycle turned negative.
"You can say that we built in shock absorbers. If we didn't take the kind of stance we had taken, the impact of the global economic slowdown and the global financial turmoil, would have been more severe for South Africa," Kganyago said.
"The rainy day came a little bit too soon, but you are better off having a leaking umbrella rather than having none at all.
"You will see growth in South Africa slowing down, but definitely not recession," he said.
Kganyago said Manuel would revise the official growth forecast downwards when he presents his budget at 2pm on Wednesday.
He said the slowdown would be nowhere near as significant as the slowdown in the United States, which was seen by many to be on the brink of recession or, possibly, already in one.
Kganyago said treasury officials would work through last night and today to finalise the last edits to the budget review.
He said the expenditure proposals were finalised in December, but the economic forecasts and data were revised up to two weeks ago, when the pages were "locked".
Kganyago said two officials would take separate planes from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Saturday to deliver the documents to the printer there.
"They are on different flights to make sure there are no unforeseen events.
"Plus we will then encrypt the document and send it to our Cape Town office just in case both aeroplanes crash, then we have got another document in our Cape Town office that we could download and take to the printer."