Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 25 October 2013

Dear Minister Gigaba, let’s talk frankly about ten ways you can save money

Of all the PR gimmicks of recent times, the cutting up of your credit card must rank as the most dramatic and meaningful as it raises an important issue of wasteful expenditure in government. So, one hopes there was obviously a plan to follow-up the Minister of Finance’s strong statement about cost cutting with this visible demonstration of fiscal discipline.

Dr Minister Gigaba,

I hope this this means that you will not have access to a frivolous float of cash to spend on things that are not related to your work. So you will have to use your own credit card next time you take me to lunch. Or I may have to pay. I always believe that actions like this makes communicating a message of frugality easier. They are not just words but actions that demonstrate seriousness. So big ups to you, Minister. You are leading by example.

But now, let’s talk frankly… Imagine the impact if the whole Cabinet cut up their cards. Surely you can convince them to do the same? Or not? Because surely whatever you could possibly buy with your card cannot really make a true difference in the diversion of funds that were going to be wasted and those that should have been spent building houses and making sure people don’t die of hunger. I know that there was an MEC who bought a painting using the card, and MacDonalds – but there is always a black sheep in the family. But imagine if the whole 60-strong executive just cut up the damn things. What a message! What an impact!

Then we get all the provincial MECs to do the same. Ten per province gives you over a hundred of such warriors against waste, including the provincial premiers – one of whom has already used her card to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken in bulk recently. What a difference it will make. I bet a few mud schools can be built with that change. Of course, if we got all the mayors and councillors to do the same in the 298 municipalities, we can save an arm and a leg in expenditure. Now being a fellow responsible for numerous parastatals – your biggest coup could be to ask the CEOs to bring their credit cards along at the next meeting you convene. Some of them are pretty wasteful, if you ask me. In fact some of them even have garage cards they use to fill up their cars – over and above their obscene bonuses that are truly and affront to the poor – ask them to cut those up too and use their own garage cards to get to and from work and change their low profile tyres with their own money.

But we all know that the real wastage has got little to do with the credit card and alcohol at state functions. So here are ten suggestions that will help your credit-card-cut-up symbolism have a lot more weight:

  1. Cancel the budget vote parties. Frankly, I am not sure what is being celebrated after you tell the country what you are going to do for them over the next twelve months with their money. The rough estimation of savings will touch a billion rand. Instead after each budget vote why not visit school assemblies and churches and tell them what you are planning, there you will have every justification to serve drinks.
  2. Stop the Northwest from renaming itself Moses Kotane province. That would save a cool billion rand and some of that money can be used to plug the potholes in Mmabatho before people give them funny names.
  3. Cancel the so-called ‘accreditation’ at state events. This might put some businessperson out of business but will save the taxpayer millions. People can use their green ID books to identify themselves against a decent guest list and voila, they have access to the event. It irks me when I see every conference with a branded conference bag, branded t-shirts and, for good measure, even a windbreaker, where half the time there is no wind to break other than the wind that delegates will break from being overfed at these conferences.
  4. Cancel half of the flying privileges of the SAA pilots in particular. They have used these to hold every single CEO to ransom over the years. This is one wasteful expenditure that is sickening indeed. The privileges can be curtailed to be modest like of all other staff. I would rather start a schools programme where we fly school kids who have never been on an aeroplane than carry on with this vanity project.
  5. Cancel the VIP protection of all provincial MECs and local MMCs. Not sure who wants to kill these guys. I can understand that you may need a bodyguard for the councillor of Diepsloot but frankly for the rest it’s a bothersome thing because they dodge these bodyguards and go about their business anyway while the taxpayer has to foot the bill. The VIP guards will then be freed up to fight real crime in the streets, as it is now most of them have never fired a single bullet in the twenty years of democracy in defence of these politicians. Do they still even know how to shoot?
  6. Cut by half the bonuses of the executives at parastatals. These are not commensurate with the service they give the public. Even at half, some of the bonuses paid by parastatals are rather obscene. What is worse are the ones who burn a hole in the fiscus all the time. They often are in the front of the queue when payday comes. If we did this we may well reduce the money we need to bail out some of these parastatals.
  7. Revise by half the use of consultants who are shadowing numerous managers. Employ people instead who know what they are doing and will need less and less consultants through the years. This, I am told, will save you billions. If the excessive use of consultants reported by the minister of Public Service and Administration is anything to go by, we are consultant state. Frankly not sustainable.
  8. Stop vanity billboards or pointless advertising meant to promote little more than the politicians. The public pays scant attention to these as they are used to substitute the hard work of communicating to communities in a meaningful way. With this money, how about we complete building the police station in Diepsloot?
  9. Cut by half the bosberaads by numerous state entities. We are  an over-bosberaaded country. We now need to implement and stop over-planning. These bosberaads have now become an excuse to have a jol at taxpayer’s expense. I am sure they are important, but if we cut them by half we may just avoid a hospital running out of drugs.
  10. Malawi – oh, that country again. Why not emulate President Joyce Banda and fire ministers who have been found with their hands in the cookie jar and NOT re-deploy them, so they can regroup and steal again under a new title as ambassador of some or other unknown country. This will essentially cut up their credit lines on behalf of the public that is increasingly cynical about our commitment to fight corruption.

Once again, congratulations. What you have done will go a long way in challenging your Cabinet colleagues to put their money where their mouths often are.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane. DM


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