A generally useful Budget

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel yesterday delivered a generally useful Budget that casts a wide net of interventions on jobs, welfare, education, security and energy needs of the country.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel yesterday delivered a generally useful Budget that casts a wide net of interventions on jobs, welfare, education, security and energy needs of the country.

But, as usual, there could not be unanimity over the adequacy of the allocations, given the wide range of very urgent - and not so urgent - spending priorities needing government attention.

A consolation is that he has allocated prioritised expenditure - R60 billion to be precise - to tackle the current energy crisis, and going so far as to announce the introduction of a levy of two cents a kilowatt hour on the sale of electricity generated from non-renewable resources next year.

Taxing the poor for what has become a government folly to resolve the energy crisis is unfair.

And R60 billion is a grudging amount, given that the government coffers are overflowing from the past few years when little was spent on infrastructure such as roads and power.

Though an allocation in that region to deal with the energy crisis had been bandied about in recent weeks, prioritising the expenditure should raise public hopes of incremental relief from load shedding in the next five years.

Equally important is the R10 billion allocation to improve the country's crime-fighting capacity - something that has become very urgent as we approach the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Good news is that this will translate into more than 200000 police officers by the end of March 2011.

This is up from the 163000 police officers in 2006/07, including more prosecutors, judges and magistrates.

Also welcome are pro-poor interventions such as raising the pension grant by R70 to R940 in April; raising child grant limits to include children aged 15; and lowering the pension age limit to 63.

Added to this is the R5 billion tax incentives to boost industrial development and job creation.

All these allocations, including the R7,7 billion tax relief for individuals, will hopefully put a momentary smile on many faces.

The faces of a populace that is struggling to keep its collective head in the swollen stream of high interest rates.

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