30 March 2023

The Nedbank and Old Mutual Budget Speech Competition is an annual competition that has been active for over 50 years. It is considered one of the most prestigious economic competitions in South Africa, aimed at discovering young talent in economics and empowering future leaders of Africa.

The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate economics students from tertiary institutions across the country. The finalists are selected by a panel of judges that includes sponsors, National Treasury, the business sector, academia, and external consultants.

This year's competition focused on the challenging economic conditions facing South Africa, characterized by low economic growth over the past decade. These conditions have been attributed to factors such as regulatory and policy uncertainty, sluggish progress in implementing structural reforms, and the adverse impact of worsening power cuts on the economy.

Students were presented with the challenging task of writing an essay that delved into the economic and infrastructural challenges facing South Africa while offering potential solutions.

In particular, postgraduate university students who entered the competition were required to assess the potential impact of a proposed plan on the South African economy. They had to critically evaluate whether this plan was a game-changer that would facilitate future growth, or another plan destined to fail.

Additionally, entrants had to examine the impact of public infrastructure investment on economic growth, drawing from South Africa's post-2000 period. The essay prompt also called for a discussion on the prospects for economic growth in the medium term.

Nkamba was among the finalists selected by a panel of judges. His study found that public infrastructure investment continued to rise from the early 2000s until 2009, with public spending as a percentage of GDP sitting at 9.6%. However, from 2016 to 2020, public infrastructure investment declined each year due to larger debts and budget deficits by the government, resulting in worsened economic growth.

Finalists had to present their ideas in front of a live audience, including South Africa's Minister of Finance Mr Godongwane, which was held in Cape Town and coincided with the national budget speech. The judges evaluated each student based on their intellectual sparkle, ability to formulate and express rational arguments, and understanding and knowledge of topical global economic issues.

Nkamba explains: “Public spending remained at good levels heading into the early 2010's with the introduction with the National Development Plan and the New Growth Path. From 2016 to 2020, public infrastructure investment continued to decline each year, and this is explained by larger debts and budget deficits by the government, economic growth also worsened as a result.”

Addressing key problems

Nkamba provided possible alternatives to funding public infrastructure investment, such as a refined deficit financing technique accompanied by its own challenges, as well as an increased involvement of the private sector. He also acknowledged the establishment of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan and the Investment and Infrastructure Office, stating that such actions may lead to an upward trajectory of economic growth in the medium term.

His passion for economics began when he was doing a BCom general for his undergraduate degree, where he was able to learn about key problems affecting the country.

“I really liked the way economics helps students understand how the world around them operates. Getting to learn about key problems in affecting the country such as unemployment, inequality, inflation and related topics.”

Entering the competition was not initially on Nkamba's list of things to do, but his economics lecturer encouraged him to participate.

“My lecturer encouraged me to enter the competition. Then I was intrigued by the competition question of public infrastructure investment in South Africa as well as its relevance in the present day. I then proceeded to enter the competition as it was a topic of my interest,” says Nkamba.

Encouraging emerging economists

The Budget Speech Competition is an excellent platform for economics students to challenge themselves, gain exposure to the industry, and contribute to solving South Africa's economic and infrastructural challenges. UMP is proud of Nkamba’s participation and encourages students to enter this year’s competition, which closes on 30 June 2023.

Each year, the competition poses challenging economic scenarios to participants, which they need to research and explore. The competition requires students to provide interesting insights and offer solutions to the economic and infrastructural challenges and opportunities facing South Africa.

The competition not only provides students with the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills in economics but also offers them the chance to network with leading economists and industry professionals. Winners of the competition receive substantial cash prizes, and finalists are often scouted by leading companies in the financial sector.

Interested students can find the entry link here:

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Picture design @Nedbank.