October 23, 2019

Ministerial handbook heading for revision. Again

It took 11 years to see through the protracted process of revising the ministerial handbook, which among other things stipulates how much ministers and deputy ministers can spend on the perks of their trade. But inflation and recession during that time already makes these new rules outdated and new expense limits somewhat unlikely, writes JAN-JAN JOUBERT. This does not read like a guide for cabinet belt-tightening.

The Minister for Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu, has already undertaken to review the ministerial handbook, merely days after it was released, as it emerges that current and former members of Cabinet can now splurge even more at the taxpayers’ expense than they could according to the previous incarnation.

Not that the new effort was a rush job at anyone’s pace. It took 11 years to complete and was much anticipated.

Indeed, as DA MP and the party’s Shadow Minister for Public Service and Administration, Leon Schreiber, put it succinctly: “The revision of the ministerial handbook was long awaited, and there were high hopes that the revised handbook would reduce wasteful and unnecessary luxury expenditure. However, the ‘revised’ handbook was deeply disappointing. In fact, it now allows for even more public money to be splashed on and squandered by members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Executive.”

Minister already undertaken to review the new ministerial handbook, merely days after it was released.

Indeed, the changes put South Africa further into political fat cat territory than ever before, as the following three examples will show:

Firstly, the limit on the purchase of official vehicles, which in the past had already been a decadent 70% of ministers’ and deputy ministers’ salaries, (which came to about R1,6 million per year), has now been uncapped. The expectation can surely only be that these political heads will now spend even more freely, particularly as each has the right to two official vehicles – one for Pretoria and one for Cape Town. The Minister of Finance is the sole check to keep an eye on this expenditure as s/he must sign off on the purchase.

Secondly, the number of office staff a minister may appoint has been increased from 10 people to 15, and a deputy ministers may employ 6 to 11.

Thirdly, ministers and even former ministers can fly an unlimited number of business class trips at taxpayers’ expense. And former ministers have the business class flight treatment for the rest of their lives, even when they render no service whatsoever to the Republic or its citizens. Former ministers get 48 single business class flights per year, former deputy ministers get 36, spouses of former ministers get 24, spouses of former deputy ministers get 18. And, not to left out, the widows of former ministers and deputy ministers get 12 a year!

Nice if you can have it, isn’t it?

Fourthly, ministers only stay in hotels “suited to the status of a minister”, which is stipulated as a five star hotel in South Africa and the equivalent abroad.

Is this how it works elsewhere? Hard to know, as the closest non-ANC government to compare it with is the provincial level leadership in the only place the ANC does not govern South Africa – and that is where the DA governs, in the Western Cape:

Firstly, Western Cape MECs (which are ministers at provincial level) can have official cars at a value of up to 40% of their salary. Secondly, Western Cape MECs can appoint about half the number of office personnel that ministers are permitted ‑ 7 in the office of an MEC and 11 in the office of the premier. Thirdly, Western Cape MECs and former MECs do not travel business class unless it is a very long overseas official trip, and certainly not at all after retirement, unless they pay for it themselves. Fourthly, Western Cape MECs are instructed to avoid five star hotels.

Schreiber, who saw his party’s long fight to the bitter end, only to hear that the guidelines are likely to be republished, comments: “Although the DA welcomes the minister’s admission that the new handbook introduced no savings and is even more inappropriate in the current context of economic crisis, we are deeply concerned at the haphazard way in which the government is handling this important issue.

“President Ramaphosa recently signed-off on the ‘revised’ handbook, which was published on 8 June 2019, but only a month later he wants to revise it again.”

According to Schreiber the chaotic way in which the government is handling the matter suggests that maybe the president did not pay close attention when approving the new version just one month ago.

Which may be true, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, at least on two fronts. Firstly, currently the guy in the position of Minister of Finance, who has to sign off on car purchases, is Tito “Scrooge” Mboweni, so the good times on the gravy train might be ending after all. Secondly, at least Minister Mchunu seemed embarrassed at the excess this new handbook permits, which might mean a faster and stricter rewrite of the handbook next time.

Hope and disappointment are never more than a wink away in the beloved country, and we can expect either from the next edition of the ministerial handbook. Maybe the bond between high office and the high life will be cut short in due course because this makes a mockery of the notion of a pro-poor government.

Jan Jan Joubert

 

   
 

Ministerial handbook heading for revision. Again

It took 11 years to see through the protracted process of revising the ministerial handbook, which among other things stipulates how much ministers and deputy ministers can spend on the perks of their trade. But inflation and recession during that time makes these new rules already outdated and new expense limits somewhat unlikely, writes JAN-JAN JOUBERT. This does not read like a guide for cabinet belt-tightening.

The Minister for Public Service and Administration, Senzo Mchunu, has already undertaken to review the ministerial handbook, merely days after it was released, as it emerges that current and former members of Cabinet can now splurge even more at the taxpayers’ expense than they could according to the previous incarnation.

Not that the new effort was a rush job at anyone’s pace. It took 11 years to complete and was much anticipated.

Indeed, as DA MP and the party’s Shadow Minister for Public Service and Administration, Leon Schreiber, put it succinctly: “The revision of the ministerial handbook was long awaited, and there were high hopes that the revised handbook would reduce wasteful and unnecessary luxury expenditure. However, the ‘revised’ handbook was deeply disappointing. In fact, it now allows for even more public money to be splashed on and squandered by members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Executive.”

Indeed, the changes put South Africa further into political fat cat territory than ever before, as the following three examples will show:

Firstly, the limit on the purchase of official vehicles, which in the past had already been a decadent 70% of ministers’ and deputy ministers’ salaries, (which came to about R1,6 million per year), has now been uncapped. The expectation can surely only be that these political heads will now spend even more freely, particularly as each has the right to two official vehicles – one for Pretoria and one for Cape Town. The Minister of Finance is the sole check to keep an eye on this expenditure as s/he must sign off on the purchase.

Secondly, the number of office staff a minister may appoint has been increased from 10 people to 15, and a deputy ministers may employ 6 to 11.

Thirdly, ministers and even former ministers can fly an unlimited number of business class trips at taxpayers’ expense. And former ministers have the business class flight treatment for the rest of their lives, even when they render no service whatsoever to the Republic or its citizens. Former ministers get 48 single business class flights per year, former deputy ministers get 36, spouses of former ministers get 24, spouses of former deputy ministers get 18. And, not to left out, the widows of former ministers and deputy ministers get 12 a year!

Nice if you can have it, isn’t it?

Fourthly, ministers only stay in hotels “suited to the status of a minister”, which is stipulated as a five star hotel in South Africa and the equivalent abroad.

Is this how it works elsewhere? Hard to know, as the closest non-ANC government to compare it with is the provincial level leadership in the only place the ANC does not govern South Africa – and that is where the DA governs, in the Western Cape:

Firstly, Western Cape MECs (which are ministers at provincial level) can have official cars at a value of up to 40% of their salary. Secondly, Western Cape MECs can appoint about half the number of office personnel that ministers are permitted ‑ 7 in the office of an MEC and 11 in the office of the premier. Thirdly, Western Cape MECs and former MECs do not travel business class unless it is a very long overseas official trip, and certainly not at all after retirement, unless they pay for it themselves. Fourthly, Western Cape MECs are instructed to avoid five star hotels.

Schreiber, who saw his party’s long fight to the bitter end, only to hear that the guidelines are likely to be republished, comments: “Although the DA welcomes the minister’s admission that the new handbook introduced no savings and is even more inappropriate in the current context of economic crisis, we are deeply concerned at the haphazard way in which the government is handling this important issue.

“President Ramaphosa recently signed-off on the ‘revised’ handbook, which was published on 8 June 2019, but only a month later he wants to revise it again.”

According to Schreiber the chaotic way in which the government is handling the matter suggests that maybe the president did not pay close attention when approving the new version just one month ago.

Which may be true, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, at least on two fronts. Firstly, currently the guy in the position of Minister of Finance, who has to sign off on car purchases, is Tito “Scrooge” Mboweni, so the good times on the gravy train might be ending after all. Secondly, at least Minister Mchunu seemed embarrassed at the excess this new handbook permits, which might mean a faster and stricter rewrite of the handbook next time.

Hope and disappointment are never more than a wink away in the beloved country, and we can expect either from the next edition of the ministerial handbook. Maybe the bond between high office and the high life will be cut short in due course because this makes a mockery of the notion of a pro-poor government.

Jan Jan Joubert

 

Last modified on Sunday, 28 July 2019 19:16

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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