South Africa


Perks, Patronage, Power: The incoming coalitions will necessitate more abuse

Perks, Patronage, Power: The incoming coalitions will necessitate more abuse
(Photos: Leila Dougan | Getty Images)

As new ministers and deputy ministers take up their positions and those who have been fired examine what they have lost, a storm is beginning to rage over the perks that people in the executive receive.

It is well known that ministers and deputy ministers cost the fiscus a fortune, at a time when the cost of living for ordinary people has skyrocketed. It is now likely that this issue, and the perks of office, could become a major factor in the patronage of coalition governments after next year’s elections – while costing the government even more money.

Over the last week or so, the answers to a series of parliamentary questions posed by the DA have received wide publicity.

It emerged that the total value of the properties owned by government and used only by ministers and deputy ministers comes to over R900-million. Last weekend came the revelation that 12 ministers have employed more than the number of staff they are allowed.

The Ministerial Handbook says members of the executive may employ up to 11 people at the cost of the state. Currently, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe each employ 17 (just to be clear, all of the salaries of these people are paid by the state).

Then there are the generators. As government has confirmed previously, it has spent over R2-million installing generators at the homes of the people included in this group. As a result, they do not notice load shedding, while the rest of the country is left in the dark.

The history of this is a long one.

While Jacob Zuma was taking power as president in 2009, the DA’s shadow cabinet each submitted a question to each ministry, asking about the amount spent on cars for each minister.

It turned out that almost every minister had taken delivery of two new cars – one in Gauteng and another in Cape Town – and almost all of them had opted for luxury German sedans (a notable exception was the finance minister at the time, Pravin Gordhan, who opted for a Lexus). That sparked outrage and questions about whether each person in this group really needed two cars.

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Of course, the history of this goes back even further.

In many countries, it is only those in the line of succession that get government accommodation and protection. In Germany, Angela Merkel remained in the same apartment she had stayed in for years while Chancellor. In the UK, the Prime Minister is expected to move into 10 Downing Street immediately after being elected (and to move out immediately after the term ends).

But in South Africa, ministers and deputy ministers do get their accommodation. And government appears to make the case that this is merely the continuation of a practice that began during the Apartheid years. This was because of the fact that ministers, like MPs, were expected to work in both Tshwane and in Cape Town, because of the way our government has been set up with three capitals (for those who care, this was because of the need to mollify people from the Cape, the Transvaal and the Free State – Natal obviously didn’t matter).

It should be remembered that ordinary MPs are housed in parliamentary villages in Cape Town, and are expected to pay rent for them. From time to time, some sort of scandal erupts over whether they have in fact paid or if they are refusing to move out after losing their seat.

All of this comes at an immense cost to government. Certainly, just the amount of money spent employing people to support ministers and deputy ministers comes, according to the DA, to around R2-billion over a five-year period. To put this into context, the current budget to rebuild the National Assembly is the same amount.

While voters may disagree on who to cast their ballot for in next year’s elections, they may find common ground in doing away with this.

At the same time, it appears there is no law underpinning the Ministerial Handbook – it is simply up to the president of the day to decide what is allowed and what isn’t.

However, this could be important for the people who benefit from it. It is entirely possible that many of the people employed at state expense by ministers and deputy ministers are, in fact, long-serving retainers. Some may even be part of the family in some capacity, and it would be hard to part with them.

But this also increases the power of patronage for each person appointed to each of these positions. It means that a promotion or demotion to or from these positions is life-changing for up to 11 people and their families (and that’s if the Handbook is followed – if it isn’t, the number can be even greater).

This also shows the kind of patronage which is going to be available after next year’s elections if we do enter an age of coalitions, as it is widely expected.

One can imagine a situation where so much money is at stake through salaries, accommodation and other facilities during a period of negotiations.

So, for example, if a group of parties must decide between themselves who gets how many ministerial positions, at stake will not only be political power, but also up to 12 salaries for each position (the minister or deputy minister and 11 support staff) – along with all of the other perks, including free relief from load shedding.

At the same time, there will be no limit to what the president can do to just increase the size of the pie.

The person in that position will be able to do that both by increasing the number of ministers and deputy ministers, and by changing the Ministerial Handbook.

It would be easy to see a situation in which two or three political parties have to be accommodated, and have people who need positions, along with the patronage that comes with them. It would be much easier for the president to increase the size of Cabinet than to actually resolve a dispute.

Of course, this has happened already. It is because of the problems of the internal constituencies in the ANC that Cabinet got so big in the first place, and that so many different people and constituencies had to be accommodated.

This may also extend to MPs within parties. There will be fights before the election about who will get onto the list, simply because of the resources that this will bring. 

And once MPs have been sworn in, it could be impossible to prevent them from voting in favour of more perks and higher salaries for themselves.

The net result of this is that the process of getting into Parliament, and to become a minister or deputy minister, will only become more intense. At the same time, the amount of money this will cost us all will only increase.

This will lead to a greater distance between the people who benefit from this and everyone else – the inequality between them will widen.

And there will be almost nothing that voters can do about it. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    The South African taxpayer : the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Let the tax payer have a go at the Ministerial Handbook. After all it is them that pay for these fat cats who give us very little in return. now we have a new bunch in joining the feeding trough, all with questionable corruption, etc records.
    Is Sisulu out of her ministerial house yet and others who got fired?

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    They do not even know what shame is, nor do they care to give something in return for all their privileges. Something definitely has to be changed!

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