No more luxuries for ministers

By Drum Digital
24 October 2013

Government plans to slash perks for all officials from ministers to mayors and hopes to save more than R2bn in the process, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his mid-term budget policy review on Wednesday.

Gordhan said the new rules would apply from December 1, and to all spheres of government.

"Although most government spending is effectively managed, there are many opportunities to cut or minimise costs and stop abuse," he told MPs.

"In these difficult times, cabinet has decided to take a number of initiatives, which will apply both to members of cabinet and to officials in national, provincial and local government."

The steps include setting a standardised cost limit for official cars, revoking all official credit cards immediately, shrinking the size of delegations travelling abroad, and putting up ministers waiting for official homes in rented apartments, not hotels.

"The cost of cars will be standardised. It is hard for me to advertise a particular brand of car, you must choose your brand, but it will be the equivalent of a BMW 530 or something like that," Gordhan told a media briefing ahead of his speech.

The model in question is priced at around half a million rand.

"That is if you like the maximum level that any public office bearer can actually purchase at the cost of the fiscus," he said, adding that from December there would also be no compensation for the use of personal cars.

Government would ban ministers from travelling first class and restrict the number of assistants accompanying them to two. Unlike ministers, they will not be allowed to travel in business class.

It was part of plans to cut wasteful expenditure, which would also soon see long-awaited changes to the ministerial handbook, Gordhan said.

The finance minister said he expected the downgrading of official perks, with regard to cabinet ministers, would save only about R15m, but if applied across all tiers of government it could bring savings of R2bn.

He said the cost-cutting steps would go as far as a ban on buying alcohol with taxpayers' money, with exceptions made perhaps for entertaining visiting foreign heads of state.

"No public funds to be used to buy alcohol."

Asked whether the new rules would apply to President Jacob Zuma, the minister said the presidency was a government department and would have to implement the same savings as others.

He sidestepped a question about the controversial R206m upgrade of Zuma's private home at Nkandla, but said there was no reason to suspend reported plans to buy the president a new jet.

"If the president requires a plane he must get one," he answered.

The decision comes six months ahead of the next national elections, and follows years of public outrage over high-living officials.

Disgraced former communications minister Dina Pule was found to have treated her lover to stays in luxury hotels on three continents at taxpayer's cost, while Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson flew her children and their au pair back from a holiday in Sweden at state expense.

The Public Protector also found that Joemat-Pettersson spent "unconscionably excessive" amounts on staying in hotels while waiting for an official residence to be made ready for her.

Gordhan said cabinet had also agreed that every government entity had to devise a strategy to reduce its use of consultants, and that the deputy president would hold discussions with Parliament on how costs linked to the legislature could be reduced.

This, he said, would include considering the size of delegations flown down to brief MPs, and "the cost implications of the current Pretoria-Cape Town arrangements" - suggesting that the long-standing debate on moving parliament could be re-opened.

-News24

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