Defend Truth


Never mind the (mostly) free water and lights, ministerial perks need a fundamental review — for accountability and transparency

Never mind the (mostly) free water and lights, ministerial perks need a fundamental review — for accountability and transparency
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The public outcry over free lights and water for ministers and their deputies, premiers and MECs is a critical kick against elitism. But, crucially, how those perks came about is a tale of a lack of public accountability and the centralisation of power to the President.

South Africans still pay up to R5,000 a month for water and lights for each of the ministers, deputy ministers, premiers and MECs living in state-owned residences. Anything above that is for the pocket of those elected public representatives appointed to the government. 

That’s the outcome of the official withdrawal of the April 2022 Guide for Members of the Executive (Ministerial Handbook) stipulation that: “Public Works shall be responsible for the costs associated with the provision of water and electricity” and the return to the November 2019 version that sets out the R5,000 payment threshold.

And South Africans continue to pay for the upkeep, maintenance and garden and cleaning staff at official state-owned residences, flights, including 20 a year for members of the executive and their spouses, plus six for dependants, blue-light cars and protection details, data and telephone expenses of up to R60,000 a year. And much, much more. 

Kudos to the presidential spin-doctoring of how “the President listened” to the public outcry and now is proactively responding by scrapping his 13 April 2022 amendments to the Ministerial Handbook.

Or as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said at Monday’s Union Buildings briefing: “President Ramaphosa acknowledges and appreciates the public sentiments on the matter. However, the impression created that the amendments were conducted in secret to avoid public scrutiny is false.”

But that’s where the spin unravels.

No consultations needed

A presidential minute, effectively an administrative instrument of the President’s discretion, effected the changes in the 13 April 2022 Ministerial Handbook. No consultations needed; no publication needed. It’s why it took so long for the changes, including extra staff — a “food aide” for each minister’s office — to emerge, courtesy of the opposition DA.

Yet, the last time the Ministerial Handbook was reviewed, the process was headed by the Department of Public Service and Administration and it was in the public eye — for almost a decade. 

In early 2012, the then public service and administration minister, Roy Padayachie, said a draft was ready for Cabinet approval, clipping the value of benefits like cars while introducing measures to boost performance. Padayachie, who died in May 2012, had taken over this review from his predecessor, Richard Baloyi, who had pledged revised ministerial perks guidelines by the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The Ministerial Handbook review process continued amid a revolving door of public service and administration ministers, who were regularly asked in briefings about those guidelines. It’s a gold medal for kicking into touch.

In early December 2019, the public release of the updated Ministerial Handbook came with an official statement from the Department of Public Service and Administration framed in anti-corruption, good governance and “the need to be circumspect on the fiscal constraints we find ourselves in and to ensure fiscal prudence”.

But it reflected substantial shifts from the 2007 version, including on governance checks and balances. Ministerial perks no longer needed Cabinet approval as had been the case since at least 2001, if not earlier.  

More power for the Presidency

Now it’s all up to the President — signalling a further centralisation of power within the Presidency, and the person of the President.  

Put differently, the 2007 Ministerial Handbook says the Cabinet must interpret “anything relating to these guidelines” and on every page is written: “Approved by Cabinet: 7 February 2007”.

The 2019 revised version states on every page: “Approved by the President… Effective date: 19 November 2019”, and right at the start says: “The President may review this Guide from time to time.” 

And so ministerial perks came to the fold of presidential power. 

Also in the Presidency is State Security and the State Security Agency (SSA) — the President also chairs the National Security Council which he revived by public proclamation in February 2020 — alongside working groups, task teams and units on anything from investment, employment stimulus, climate change and the just transition from coal without negatively affecting communities near coal power stations, and a unit to cut red tape. Operation Vulindlela brings together the Presidency and National Treasury to move the structural reforms across portfolios to kick-start economic growth.

Restructuring the government has been a presidential priority since Ramaphosa moved into the Union Buildings in February 2018. However, while the number of ministries dropped to 28 from 35, it seems most of the restructuring centralised power in the Presidency.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Following the 2017 ANC Nasrec conference resolution, the Presidency is the “strategic centre of power”, and Ramaphosa could argue he’s carrying out his governing party’s mandate. Much is also made of section 85(1) of the Constitution that puts the “executive authority of the Republic” with the President.

However, section 85(2) qualifies this: “The president exercises the executive authority together with the other members of the Cabinet…” 

Amendments to the perks of ministers, their deputies, premiers and MECs by presidential minutes are not that. And it’s also not what the Constitution sets out as founding values of accountability, responsiveness and openness. Or as the Constitution’s preamble states: “[Laying] the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law…”

But back to those pesky perks.

With the exception of the free water and lights to the publicly elected representatives in the executive living in state-owned houses — and more staff in ministerial offices — the April 2022 Ministerial Handbook is pretty much the same as the 2019 version. 

Significant intervention

A rough comparison of the 2007, 2019 and 2022 handbooks shows that the significant intervention to cut perks came in the November 2019 version. That included downgrading business-class domestic flights to economy class, cutting to 20 from 30 the number of annual domestic flights for members of the executive and their spouses, and pegging the value of official cars to R700,000 rather than 70% of the annual ministerial remuneration package as set in the 2007 guidelines.

Also ditched were the security upgrades of no more than R100,000 at private residences provided for in the 2007 version. Gone by November 2019 were the state-provided cleaning materials in the state-owned residences, which had two “household aides” allocated for cleaning, but not cooking.

While the 2019 Ministerial Handbook cut staff numbers in ministerial offices, the (now withdrawn) 2022 version increased these again to include portfolio coordinators, and “driver/messenger”.

Interestingly, the VIP protectors’ school run of children of members of the executive stays in as a perk, as does a spouse being allowed to drive the official car.

On 19 September 2001, the Cabinet decided to move VIP protectors’ overtime from relevant departments to the SAPS, according to the 2007 Ministerial Handbook.

Since 2007, the ministerial guidelines have carried no incentives to not use a state-owned property as an official residence, which might save the national coffers a pretty penny.

“No allowance is payable to members, who prefer not to utilise a state-owned residence for official purposes,” according to the 2007 version. But the 2019 version states: “Members are responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of a private residence designated as an official residence.”

Ministers and their deputies are entitled to live in state-owned residences in both Cape Town and Tshwane, the legislative and administrative capitals, respectively.

One stay is completely free. For the other, the 2007 Ministerial Handbook talks of market-related rental that’s a “basic component of the inclusive remuneration”. 

But the November 2019 Ministerial Handbook (like the now withdrawn April 2022 version) talks of “lease”, and how “Rental will be determined by the Minister responsible for Public Works and the Minister responsible for Finance.” 

Daily Maverick understands those rentals could be as low as just over R1,600 a month for a multimillion-rand official home. That’s a perk that’s not clear from the ministerial handbooks; definitely not set out in the guidelines are generators and the diesel needed to stave off rolling power cuts.

Following the public outcry over the free water and lights executive perk, a must now is a transparent and accountable review of the Ministerial Handbook — and why these guidelines apparently have become entitlements.

The devil is in the details. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Wow! South Africa must be an extremely rich country if it can afford to pay it’s politician so lavishly! What, it is only a middle income country, sliding down the scale to a lower income? Well I suppose it has the best and most efficient cadres in the World; but are you saying most of them sleep all day in Parliament and fail abysmally at holding the executive to account, such that South Africa is arguably the most corrupt country in the World?

    Then why pay them at all; surely best to sack the lot and start again!

  • Andrew W says:

    However you skin it, the tax payer is not getting bang for their buck. While the system creates political elites that really have nothing other than politics to offer, the incentives will give the country adverse outcomes

  • virginia crawford says:

    Shameless greed and a delusional sense of entitlement and self-importancs, all paid for by the few who pay tax. It obviously unsustainable, but don’t care because they and their families have salted away millions. Any party that promises to cut perks for MPs and government officials, will get my vote. One salary, one car, one house and minimal security. They can pay for it like everyone else. No free flights except for official business with a limit.

  • Phillipa Lycett says:

    It is no wonder that “regular” employees in the South African employment playground feel hard done by – the bullies get the perks and more. The notion of bonus incentives based on productivity and purpose cannot exist in this “leadership” environment. Unfortunately school leavers, university graduates come out with severely damaged expectations, and a beautifully honed sense of entitlement is this is the role-modelling they are subjected to.
    Thank you for the highlighting.

  • Paula Savva says:

    Absolutely shocking, they get paid a handsome salary and that should be it. All other perks should be covered by their salaries. This is a crime in a country where people live and shacks and go to bed hungry. Shame on them!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.