Finances on Walden Pond

Saturday, 16 March 1996

Chris Liebenberg's budget is a reminder that we perhaps deserve the governments we get...

KATE, my live-in friend, lover, and the person I'm married to, is on walkabout in the Australian outback. This is a concept practiced by westernised Aboriginals who tear themselves away from "civilisation" and return to their roots to refresh their mind and body.

It's a somewhat universal theme. I again watched Robin Williams in Dead Poets' Society this week where he read:

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life. And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived ...

Hollywood takes liberties with literature, but I recognised those words from Thoreau, as a paraphrase of a fragment of his walkabout, On Walden Pond. Which reminded me that there was something familiar about Liebenberg's budget. So I dusted off my copy of Thoreau and started to read:

I heartily accept the motto, - "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, - "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Parliament's funding has been increased by 12% or almost R40 million. This made me scratch my head because some newspapers have called this a Robin Hood budget. How much do our poor parliamentarians currently earn?

The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

Defence, I noted, remained relatively constant at R10 billion. This is about R27 million a day or over R1-million per hour. Ah well, that's defence. It protects our lives.

But I also noted that Health was slashed from R1,44 billion to R772 million — about R88 000 per hour (which can be further reduced by R1800 per hour if we invest in Sarafina 3). I was alarmed, but then I brightened. Obviously some thinker had realised that with about 25% of expectant mothers at King Edward testing positive for HIV, we'll soon have diminished populations, and so have reduced health costs. This is also probably why Housing has been slashed from R4billion to R1,5 billion.

I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbour as I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen now.

I really have no problem with increased funding for RDP projects, particularly primary health care and school nutrition schemes.

It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with ...

A large part of what we are paying for is incompetence. We are paying R34 billion towards servicing debt accumulated by decades of bad budgets by apartheid governments. And the present government is perpetuating bad budgeting. It's far easier to tax our pension funds than to eliminate corruption within government and increase efficiency.

What is truly scary is that the ANC has been the best at keeping financial affairs in order. The Nats and Inkatha have not been able to balance their books in Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. We haven't been this stable since PW crossed the Rubicon.

I would like to see an elective tax form, where each of us would continue to pay as much tax as we do now, but have a choice as to where we wanted our money spent.

On the other hand, Thoreau was imprisoned for saying that ...