September 21, 2019

Briefs that show it all: stuff taxpayers don’t know that they are paying for

The 2019 Appropriations Act, which appears to be the only act passed by the sixth parliament during its first term, includes a few nasty surprises. For one thing, even though it has not yet been through parliament and therefore does not actually exist, the controversial National Health Insurance (NHI) Fund has been allocated R2.112 billion, which is almost as much as national spending on communicable and non-communicable diseases, such as TB and HIV.

Beleaguered taxpayers, be prepared to pay for lots more that you did not expect to add to your bills. For instance, VIP protection within SAPS has been allocated R3.1 billion, of which about R2.8 billion will go to salaries. A large chunk of the balance is apparently to be spent on overtime and “subsistence costs”. It’s hard work, accompanying the president, past presidents and anyone else who needs protection. And it involves more than following them closely, wearing an ear piece and a dark suit so that you don’t stand out. These VIPs don’t only have security wherever they go. They also have security when they don’t go anywhere, at their homes.

They are not the only ones entitled to such protection. It would be unwise to leave foreign dignitaries unprotected. What if they elect to stay in the Mount Nelson (top notch Cape Town hotel recently ransacked by armed gang in the reception area).

You may also be surprised to learn that there is a specific allocation ‑ R526 million ‑ set aside to maintain the roads in Mpumulanga used by the coal trucks that deliver their heavy loads to Eskom power stations. That is twice the amount allocated in the 2019/2020 financial year for roads-related disaster relief for all nine provinces.

Then there is the R435 million that has been set aside for what is known as the taxi recapitalisation programme, which refunds taxi drivers for their old taxis that are no longer roadworthy. But at least there is an upside to this one. It means about 3,500 particularly dangerous taxis will be taken off the roads.

Tiresome law that government consistently breaks

About R634 million owed by government to service providers and other businesses had not been paid within the requisite 30 days by the end of the 2018/2019 financial year. That is in direct contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, Act 1 of 1999.

The worst offenders among government departments are the Department of Water and Sanitation, which owes R492 million or 78% of the total outstanding amount; the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and, wait for it, the South African Police Service, which presumably is required, as part of its mandate, to enforce such legislation.

Despite a 29% national unemployment rate…

The Public Works & Infrastructure ministry reports a total of 2,400 vacancies in its national and provincial government departments. Mpumulanga at least offered an explanation: Its Executive Council resolved to implement a moratorium on filling of vacant positions in the Provincial Administration with effect from February 2015 to reduce the provincial wage bill.

That makes some sense, but It is unclear if other provincial departments are complying with a similar directive to rationalise functions, or if this is just another demonstration of how the desperate need for jobs among the jobless is completely out of alignment with the almost as desperate need for social delivery skills, particularly at provincial government level.

Are all government departments entirely out of sync with the economy’s needs?

 

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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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