PERKS LIGHTLY TRIMMED

It’s belt-tightening time for ministers, premiers and MECs — up to a point

By Rebecca Davis 10 December 2019

Public Service Minister Senzo Mchunu. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Tebogo Letsie)

In perilous economic times, we all have to make sacrifices. This was the message from Public Service Minister Senzo Mchunu on Monday, as he announced slashes to the perks granted to ministers, premiers and MECs. They include a cap on spending on cars, a reduction in staff and the end of business class flights domestically — but some will argue the new austerity measures don’t go far enough.

Members of the executive knew this day was coming. In Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s medium-term budget speech in October, he warned that government leaders would shortly be asked to tighten their belts. Among the measures promised by Mboweni: a cap on the cost of official cars and cellphone allowances, and restrictions on business class flights.

On Monday, public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu laid out the full extent of the austerity measures being imposed on ministers, premiers and MECs. They appear in the new revisions of what is colloquially known as the Ministerial Handbook — which was revised in June, but attracted criticism at the time for the fact that some of the revisions actually expanded the benefits available to the executive.

Nobody will be able to make that claim this time around. One of the most significant changes is the cap on spending on official vehicles, long promised but never officially stipulated. The cost of new cars for the executive is now limited to R700,000, including VAT, maintenance plans and security extras — which means bidding farewell to the days of top-of-the-range Mercs.

Ministers, premiers and MECs will now be opting for a vehicle along the lines of a VW Tiguan, Toyota Hilux, BMW 3 Series or Mitsubishi Pajero.

Up till now, members of the executive have had carte blanche to fly business class on official trips — and bring along a spouse or adult child when the occasion requires it. Now South Africans can get used to the welcome sight of a leader slumming it back in coach: it’s economy class only for domestic travel or “international travel where the travel time is less than two hours” — that is, to neighbouring countries.

One of the biggest cost-saving measures is found in the reduction of staff with which members of the executive are allowed to surround themselves. This has long been a concern, with the likes of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu accused of packing her department’s payroll with individuals who supported her 2017 campaign for the ANC presidency.

Sisulu reportedly employs 19 additional staff in her ministry. Under the new regulations, 12 will have to be axed: ministers are now permitted to appoint no more than seven support staff.

Proving that the government has learnt at least one valuable lesson from the Zuma years, there is also now a complete block on paying for security upgrades undertaken at private residences.

The full list of new regulations is laid out in the table below:

Previous benefits

New rules

Cost of vehicle for Member shall be borne by relevant department. The cost of the vehicle, including the security upgrades, will be determined by the Finance Minister. On the procurement of official vehicles, the cost of the vehicles is limited to R700,000, inclusive of VAT, maintenance plans and security extras.
Members and their spouses (or an adult family member accompanying the Member in an official capacity) can travel business class for official purposes using the cheapest of three quotations. Members and their spouses travelling by air transport must travel in economy class for all official domestic travel as well as for international travel where the travel time is less than two hours.
The relevant department shall meet the actual costs for travel, accommodation, meals, refreshments (excluding alcoholic beverages), gratuities and reading material. Departments shall not be responsible for the cost of gratuities and reading material for both the Member and the spouse.
The relevant department will bear the costs of domestic air travel for the Member’s spouse (or an adult family member who accompanies the Member instead of a spouse) who has to accompany such Member for official purposes. Travel by a spouse for official domestic trips is now limited to six (6) domestic economy class travel trips per financial year if the Member is required to attend official duties accompanied by a spouse or adult family member.
National Members and their spouses are jointly entitled to 30 (thirty) single domestic business class flight tickets per annum at the expense of the relevant Department. Additional flight tickets for Member’s private use is reduced from 30 (thirty) to 20 (twenty) single economy class tickets for use by the Member or the Member’s spouse.
Rentals for cellular telephones (as well as the costs of official calls) for use by the Member are payable by the relevant Department. The rental for cellular telephones, as well as the cost of official calls, is subject to an annual limitation of R60,000.
State will pay up to R250,000 a year for security measures for a private residence designated as an Official Residence and one other private residence which is not designated as an official residence. The State shall not bear any costs in respect of security upgrades done at the Member’s private residence.
Ministers allowed 13 support staff excluding household aides. Ministers allowed seven support staff excluding household aides.
Deputy minister allowed nine support staff excluding household aides. Deputy minister allowed five support staff excluding household aides.
Premier allowed 12 support staff excluding household aides. Premier allowed seven support staff excluding household aides.
MEC allowed 12 support staff excluding household aides. MEC allowed seven support staff excluding household aides.
The Department responsible for Public Works will be responsible for the costs associated with the provision of water and electricity to Official Residences, including a private residence designated as an Official Residence. In respect of water and electricity, the State’s contribution will be limited to R5,000 per month per State-owned Residence. No contribution will be made in respect of private residences.
The Department responsible for Public Works will be responsible for the cost for all cleaning materials, equipment and chemicals. No cleaning materials, equipment and chemicals will be provided to residences.
The costs of employing one domestic worker, per Official Residence, shall be borne by the relevant Department. Members shall be responsible for all the costs related to domestic workers in the personal employ of the Member.
Members may, for official purposes, occupy a state-owned residence in the seat of office free of charge. Members may decide to designate a privately owned residence for use as an Official Residence.

A member is permitted to occupy one state-owned residence for free of charge and where a member occupies a second state-owned residence, then the Member is required to pay a rental and is personally responsible for the related tax implication.

Credit: Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick

But do the new measures really amount to “austerity”? Some represent only tiny sacrifices on the part of the executive. One such is the regulation that ministers, mayors and MECs — and their wives — must now pay for their own “gratuities and reading material” when they travel. Though waiters all over the country will no doubt be ruing the imminent decline in tips, taxpayers will still fork out for the dining and (non-alcoholic) drinking privileges of the executives on such trips, with no new restrictions placed on the cost of accommodation.

And although business class travel domestically is now officially verboten, members of the executive are still allowed to charter private planes under fairly wide-ranging circumstances, including “time constraints” and “where the facilities of commercial airlines are not cost-effective and/or readily available in the specific instance”.

On Monday, the department of public service and administration said it had yet to determine the value of the new cost-saving measures, but Mchunu indicated that further spending cuts are being actively sought. The minister said government leases and rentals would be re-evaluated for cost efficiency, and the amount of money currently being spent on litigation by the state has to come down too.

Ever since we assumed office, we have been looking at ways in which we can improve governance, from fiscal discipline to ensure that ethical conduct becomes an apex priority and a characteristic of this administration, under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mchunu said. DM

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