NEWS & ANALYSIS

Western Cape adopts austerity measures - Helen Zille

DA leader challenges national government to do the same (with letter)

DA adopts austerity measures in Western Cape, challenges national government to do the same

Head of government communications Themba Maseko told reporters at a recent Cabinet briefing. "It is tough times which call for tough choices to be made. It is absolutely essential firstly for the leaders of the unions, but secondly for the country as a whole to understand what this recession means for our economy, the constraints that it places on us as a government."

There is no doubt that South Africa faces hard times. This year, our economy is likely to shrink by almost 2% and we are deep in recession. Tax collections this year are likely to be R60bn lower than estimates, and that the budget deficit may reach 5% of GDP. Across the country, citizens are protesting because of the conditions in which they live.

In the midst of this economic crisis, the government must demonstrate that it is prepared to make sacrifices and demonstrate some frugality. President Zuma announced a significantly expanded Cabinet and six new ministries. KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize's inauguration party two months ago cost the taxpayer R10.6 million. The Department of Communications recently purchased for the new Minister two new vehicles (both BMW 750i) to the value to R1 135 000 each, or a combined total of R2 270 000. There are many other examples of this profligate spending.

 Furthermore, the effect of improper influence, bribes and favours on the efficient functioning of government is a significant concern. KwaZulu-Natal premier S'bu Ndebele was recently obliged to hand back a R1 million Mercedes that he had been given as gift. While no evidence emerged of improper influence over tenders, the perception was certainly created, reinforced by many other examples of proven impropriety.

Given these problems, my colleague Anchen Dreyer MP has submitted a letter to the Director-General in the President's Office, Mr Vusi Mavimbela, asking for certain amendments to be made to the Ministerial Handbook to reflect a more sympathetic appreciation for the plight that South Africa finds itself in. [A copy of this letter follows below.]

These proposals are being put into place in the Western Cape. We will be putting these to the President's Office, in the hope that the national government will give consideration to implementing them too.

The essence of our proposals is as follows:

1. Where Members of the Executive stay in private accommodation, they are, according to the Ministerial Handbook, entitled to a domestic worker funded by the state. The DA has requested that this right be removed, so that Ministers staying in their own houses pay for their own cleaning service.

2. Members of the Executive are entitled to a state-purchased car of a value equivalent to 70% of their annual salary, which equates to roughly R929 000. The DA believes that this is excessive. We therefore propose that the benefit be reduced from 70% to 50%. This would entitle them to a car worth R663 780, which we believe is more than adequate for the purposes that Members of the Executive use their cars for. Should a Member wish to buy a more expensive car, he or she should use their salary to pay for it.

We also propose including a stipulation that Members of the Executive not be allowed to use blue lights or sirens except in cases of genuine and verifiable emergency.

3. Chapter six of the Member's Handbook allows Members to "use VIP rooms at the relevant airports on domestic travel". The DA proposes instead that Members should not be allowed to use VIP rooms when traveling domestically, as it is not necessary to their jobs.

4. Chapter seven gives Members of the Executive the right to travel by train for official purposes at the cost of the relevant Department, including travelling on the Blue Train. The DA proposes removing this privilege. It is not necessary for carrying out Executive duties to travel on the Blue Train, and should Members want to travel on the Blue Train, we believe they should fund this from their own pockets.

5. The Ministerial Handbook allows Members of the Executive to use a corporate credit card to pay for expenses relating to functions or receptions. Given that there have been a range of different scandals involving the abuse of corporate credit cards, the DA proposes that these cards should not be made available, and that other means should be used to pay for justifiable and verifiable expenses incurred.

6. The executive ethics code, which is an annexure to the Handbook, allows Members to receive gifts valued at more than R1000, provided that permission is granted by the President or the Premier. The DA believes that there is too much room for impropriety in allowing large gifts to be received. We therefore propose that no Member be entitled to accept a gift valued at more than R1000. Should a Member accept such a gift, we propose that it either be returned, or that it be donated to the State.

We hope that the government will take these proposals seriously, and will take the steps that are necessary to show that they too recognise the harsh economic realities that South Africa is confronting.

Statement issued by Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, July 26 2009

Text of letter from DA shadow minister of labour, Anchen Dreyer, to Director General in the Presidency Vusi Mavimbela, July 26 2009:

26 July 2009

Mr Vusi Mavimbela
Director-General in the President's Office
Fax (012) 300 5755

Dear Mr Mavimbela,

In light of the increasingly dire consequences for South Africa of the global economic crisis, including the fact that we are in the midst of the first recession South Africa has experienced in two decades and that thousands of jobs are being lost every week, the DA believes that it would be appropriate for the Cabinet to adopt some austerity measures.

These measures would help to reduce the cost of government, but more importantly they would set an example of prudence and show that the government is sympathetic to the situation facing the country and understands the implications for itself.

South Africa's economic crisis has highlighted the need to deal with the problem - which the government itself has frequently admitted exists - of corruption and improper influence in government business. When the economy is under pressure, it is more important than ever that the government operate openly and accountably. We believe that it would be appropriate for the government not just to promise to act, but to be seen to be acting.

The DA therefore proposes some amendments to the Handbook for Members of the Executive & Presiding Officers which would give effect to these considerations. We outline these proposals below, and we submit them to you for further consideration.

We look forward to hearing from you on your response.

Regards,

Anchen Dreyer, MP

Democratic Alliance proposed amendments to the Handbook for Members of the Executive & Presiding Officers

1. Government vehicles

a. Mileage

Section 1.2.3 of the Handbook for Members of the Executive and Presiding Officers provides that:

Departments may purchase official vehicle/s directly from manufacturers and/or

their dealerships only when the currently provided official vehicle for that office has reached 120 000 km or 5 years, whichever comes first. The total purchase price per vehicle must include VAT, accessories and a comprehensive motor

maintenance contract/plan of up to 120 000 km or 5 years.

The DA proposes that the "120 000 km or 5 years" be substituted with "150 000 km or six years".

b. Value

Section 1.2.4 of the Handbook provides that:

The total purchase price of the vehicle chosen by the Member may not exceed in respect of a:

a. Minister/Premier: 70% of the inclusive annual remuneration package of a Minister as may be amended from time to time on recommendation of the Commission for the Remuneration of Political Members (Grade F, Notch 3);

b. Deputy Minister / MEC: 70% of the inclusive annual remuneration package of a Deputy Minister as may be amended from time to time on recommendation of the Commission for the Remuneration of Political Members (Grade E1, Notch 3);

c. Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces: 70% of the all inclusive annual remuneration package of a Minister as may be amended from time to time on recommendation of the Commission for the Remuneration of Political Members (Grade F, Notch 3);

d. Permanent Deputy Presiding Officers of Parliament: 70% of the all-inclusive annual remuneration package of a Deputy Minister as may be amended from time to time on recommendation of the Commission for the Remuneration of Political Members (Grade E1, Notch 3).

The DA proposes that wherever it occurs, the figure of 70% be replaced with a figure of 50%.

2. Gifts

The current Ministerial Handbook provides that:

4.2. When a Member, in the course of the Member's duties, has received or has been offered a gift with a value of more than R1000, the Member must request permission from the President or the Premier, as the case may be, to retain or accept the gift. If the permission is granted, the Member may retain or accept the gift, but must disclose particulars thereof in terms of paragraph 6.3 of this Code. Where such permission has not been requested or granted the Member must either - 

a. return the gift or decline the offer; or

b. donate the gift to the State.

The DA proposes changing this to:

4.2 Members of the Executive may only receive token gifts of gratitude to the value of no more than R1000 for work done during their tenure.  Where a gift exceeding this value has been received the Member must either -

a. return the gift or decline the offer; or

b. donate the gift to the State.

This restriction remains one year after the Member's employment within the Executive.

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