Will Mmusi Maimane Take a Pay Cut?

2015-02-12 16:25

Mmusi Maimane in Parliament (City Press)

When Mmusi Maimane replies to Jacob Zuma’s ‘State of the Nation Address,’ he will no doubt point out the President’s key failings. The economy, corruption, and the Constitution are likely to dominate. And for good reason.

But the run-up to this SONA season has taken a different turn. The arrival of the EFF – with their visible anti-austerity garb – have challenged the ability for MPs to revel in the splendour of such an occasion. No matter how hypocritical the EFF’s stance, it has been effective at placing MPs’ pay and benefits in the spotlight.

So, Maimane’s recent edict that all DA MPs will forgo the usual SONA luxuries – the parties, the fancy clothes, and the glamour – things which they all enjoyed very enthusiastically, must be seen in that light.

But it is something that Maimane should be careful of doing – unless he is willing to take this logic to its full conclusion, and not be treated like a gimmick.

Jon Cayzer, former speechwriter to Maimane’s predecessor Lindiwe Mazibuko, writing in 2012 put it as follows:

"The salary packages South African parliamentarians get is scandalous, eclipsing the salaries of their British and German counterparts. The result is that in a poor country with a thin tax crust, like ours, an MP’s salary in excess of R800 000 can become aspirational rather than sacrificial. Would a career in South African politics be as attractive if, say, the package was R400 000? This figure itself is higher than the household income of the average South African home.

I often hear people (usually MPs) say that parliamentarians need to be well-paid in order to attract the “best” from the private and public sector. Not only does this not always appear to be evidence-based, the obvious rejoinder is: why? The best politicians everywhere are the reluctant ones; individuals who had to give up something. The entire point of public service is that one is expected to lay aside self-interest to contribute to the public good; to be a servant"

The challenge, then, is clear: Maimane must now start attacking the immense privilege that public servants at his level enjoy. Not just ministerial flights, cars, houses, and the like. Not the easy, low-hanging fruit. He must go after the whole system too.

Whether he has the political capital to do so – considering the self-interest of many of his friends and colleagues who also carry those much sought after postnominal letters – remains to be seen. Otherwise, this starting promise of reform will be nothing short of hollow.  In a country where so many suffer so much, anything but would be morally remiss.

*** This article was originally published on TheNewsHub ***

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