Stumbling between the lines

A sense of schizophrenia pervades the ANC as leaders say one thing while members feeling their oats since Polokwane spout directly contradictory views.

A sense of schizophrenia pervades the ANC as leaders say one thing while members feeling their oats since Polokwane spout directly contradictory views.

Being politicians they frame their locutions so ambiguously you need a degree in reading between the lines to make sense of it all.

The ambivalence has now beset Parliament.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel recently presented his mid-term budget and reassured the world that the ANC would continue along the same financial tack it's been sailing since 1994.

He assured us that restless MPs would not be allowed to step in and willy-nilly change the budget's direction.

Within days Parliament passes the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Bill. That bill, unusually drawn up by MPs and not a member of the executive, specifically allows them to change all money bills, including the finance minister's budgets.

Guess what happened.

The ink had hardly dried before the allies who now act as if they run the ANC from Cosatu House declared they fully intended to rewrite next year's budget.

And hours later Parliament's budget committee sang from the same hymn sheet, threatening to transform next year's budget, not merely tweak it.

Don't get us wrong. We fully support the constitutional requirement that our MPs, as our duly elected representatives, diligently exercise oversight over all spending bills submitted by the executive.

If anything, we're miffed it took them 10 years to get their act together.

But a national budget is a finely balanced compromise between competing demands and interests. Fiddling around the edges would take dollops of expertise and the wisdom of Solomon not to topple the whole edifice.

Nothing the incumbents have done in the past year or so has given us the confidence they're up to the task and won't use the opportunity to saddle us with their pet projects and special interests.

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