South African President Jacob Zuma has directed Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to identify concrete measures to urgently address the economic challenges identified in his medium-term budget policy statement, the Presidency said on Monday.

Gigaba in October revised the economic growth forecast for 2017 to 0.7 percent, down from the 1.3 percent projected earlier in the year, and said this would only increase slowly to 1.9 percent by 2020.

He also said tax revenue in the current year was projected to fall short of target by R50.8 billion, widening the budget deficit to 4.3 percent of GDP in 2017/18, against a previous forecast of 3.1 percent.

On Monday, the Presidency said Zuma had directed Gigaba and the National Treasury to lead discussions aimed at cutting expenditure by about R25 billion, without hurting the economy, and enhancing revenue by R15 billion, partly through tax measures.

The discussions would also focus on availing free higher education to poor students and identifying stimulus measures to grow the economy faster. 

“President Zuma will in the coming days meet with the presidential fiscal committee to receive a progress report on the work done on the above,” his office said.

South Africa’s economy, once the biggest in Africa but since overtaken by Nigeria, has waned since Zuma became president in 2009, with critics accusing him of using his political influence to pursue personal gain at the expense of sound management. Zuma denies being corrupt.

Ratings agencies, most recently S&P Global on Friday, have cut South Africa’s credit rating to junk, citing concerns over its commitment to sound economic policy.

– African News Agency (ANA)