The size and cost of the South African public service has grown so unwieldy that the country is 4 million taxpayers short of affording to maintain it in its current state.
This is according to an analysis of data from the South African Revenue Service and Statistics South Africa, for the years 2009 and 2012, compiled by Gavin Chait of Whythawk, an open data knowledge services company.
Chait found that, as a result of the comparably small number of taxpayers funding the growing public service wage, service delivery could decline or taxes would have to rise.
And even though South Africa is facing economic difficulties and a widening budget deficit, the bloated state and its high salaries bill are continuing to extract a heavy toll on the fiscus.
The result is that SA’s more than 6.6-million taxpayers now face tax hikes as this is government’s only revenue generation option as the cost of borrowing increases.
Fiscal spending is a rigorously contested space with SA said to be flirting with a sovereign rating downgrade and a budget deficit of R288bn.
“With South Africa’s investment-grade status on the line, it won’t be long before the only affordable cash available to our state will be via the tax-base. Making up any tax revenue deficit via borrowing is just going to cost too much,” Chait said.
The data forms a median of the entire number of taxpayers in the country and the average salary and tax contributions they make.
While the number of taxpayers it took to support one Member of Parliament jumped from 15 in 2009 to 19 in 2012, it took 21 taxpayers to support a king in 2012, up from 15 in 2009.
The number of South African taxpayers it takes to support the annual salary of President Jacob Zuma has jumped from 42 to 57 between 2009 and 2012.
Spokesman for the Department of Public Service and Administration Dumisani Nkwamba said department was working with National Treasury to freeze some vacancies in the public service.
“This process will clarify issues such as the duration of the freeze, the categories of vacancies…, potential targets…and procedures…to ensure that the freeze does not impact negatively on service delivery,” Mr Nkwamba said.
Public Service and Administration portfolio committee member for Inkatha Freedom Party Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the public sector employment freeze should be coupled with a skills audit of those already employed in public service.
“The current economic conditions necessitate such a move. But this is not a silver bullet that can deal with the economic situation. Those that are already employed must undergo a skills audit,” Mr Hlengwa said.
Mr Hlengwa said he considered recent sightings of senior government officials flying economy class a “PR exercise”.
This report was originally published in Business Day on 11 April 2016.