Cost-cutting back pedal

2013-12-23 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Opposition parties yesterday took a few swipes at Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan after his cost-saving measures were watered down.

Announcing his medium-term budget in October, Gordhan said he would take back all government credit cards and ban alcohol at state functions to save taxpayers’ rands.

That move was widely welcomed, but yesterday, it seemed exceptions had been made in regulations that were drawn up to govern the cost-saving measures.

The new Treasury regulations in force from January say that petrol and credit cards can be used for travel and accommodation costs, and that alcohol can be served at banquets and functions for foreign dignitaries.

The change has been ascribed in some circles to political pressure placed on Gordhan, but Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikha­khane denied this was the case.

Cope MP Leonard Ramatlekane said if there had been political pressure, Gordhan’s integrity would be in question.

“I could see that when he announced the measures in Parliament they were met with little enthusiasm across the floor [on the ANC benches]. If that was the case, South Africans must ask if he can be trusted.”

The DA’s Tim Harris said Gordhan needs to explain the changes.

“It not only calls his honesty into question, but undermines the authority of Parliament, where the announcement was made.”

Harris said that so far this year:

• national government departments have spent R196 million on catering and entertainment;

• spent R5,2 million on receptions after announcing their budgets; and

• ministers have spent R1,4 million on credit cards.

IFP MP Narend Singh said it is another example of how taxpayers are misled.

“If the new regulations are the result of political pressure, there’s little hope for South Africa,” he said.

Sikhakhane said the new regulations were never meant to hamstring the efficient management of government, and therefore exceptions had to be made.

“Not to serve alcohol at a function where the products could be marketed would be to cut off your nose to spite your face,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Treasury said yesterday in reaction to speculation that Gordhan could be about to resign, that this was a decision for President Jacob Zuma and the ANC.

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