Cabinet ministers and their cars

David Bullard on govt's cruel decision to cut the official ministerial vehicle allowance to R700 000 x 2


The first job I had when I arrived in South Africa came with the perk of a company car. It was a silver Golf Gti and I managed to rack up a fair few speeding fines in it. I had only had the car for about a year when my employers promoted me and decided that my new exalted status required a vehicle upgrade. So I rather reluctantly parted with the Golf which was taken over by my head of admin and was given a brand new BMW 520i which cost around R15000 back then.

A few years later I moved to a merchant bank and part of the lure of the job was the offer of a new BMW 323i. This was a vehicle that was designed to bring out the green eyed monster in employees of rival companies and I like to think that I was largely responsible for upgrading my fellow wage slaves from their rather drab Mercedes 200 to something a little more worthy of an emerging yuppie. The deal with the car was that insurance would be covered by the company as would servicing and reasonable petrol usage per month.

It was a great perk but, of course, it didn’t last.


Somebody at Treasury decided that it wasn’t fair that ambitious young men earning a decent salary should get a free car as well so perks tax was introduced and the whole point of a company car for your exclusive use was no longer a viable proposition.

Like the rest of the population, we had to smooth talk people like Wesbank into lending us money and pay for our own cars. Once you get used to it that’s no great hardship but as you get older and wiser you do come to appreciate the cost advantages of a second hand car. I’ve been through the vanity of buying new cars (generally when somebody else was paying) but watching 20-30% of the purchase price vaporize as you drive out of the showroom is no compensation for the short lived joy of driving the brand new, out of the box latest model.

Try selling that idea to our politicians though.

The Department of Services and Adminstration has launched a new ministerial handbook to reflect the impecunious circumstances in which the country increasingly finds itself. Instead of being allowed to blow the equivalent of 70% of their annual salary on a luxury limo as was the case previously our poor ministers now only have R700 000 to spend on an official set of wheels and that’s inclusive of VAT. I suppose the sweetener is that they get two sets of wheels, one for Pretoria and one for Cape Town but, still, this must have come as a devastating blow to many swollen egos.

The real question to be asked is why on earth anybody pulling a salary of over R2mln a year shouldn’t be expected to buy their own car. Bearing in mind that their daily living expenses are mostly covered, that a hint for free booze and chicken packs is likely to be enthusiastically met by some sleazy operator and that they can spend R5 000 per month on a cell phone contract one wonders what exactly our ministers and their deputies actually do with their tax payer funded salaries.

No wonder they are so out of touch with the normal lived experience of most working South Africans and even more out of touch with the 30% who don’t have work and whose hope of ever finding employment is fading by the day.

But that’s socialism for you. Which is why it was soundly rejected by the UK voters last week. The first thing a champagne socialist does when he comes to power is to award himself all the toys enjoyed by the reviled wealth creating capitalists. This is to prove that you don’t need to directly exploit the poor to be able to drive a top of the range Mercedes.

All you have to do is to siphon off large dollops of public funds before they can be allowed to trickle down and uplift people or whatever it is they are supposed to do. Some might call that indirect exploitation of the poor but it’s amazing how many South Africans who have nothing will swell with pride when they see their leaders coming to address them in a nicely polished Range Rover Sport. The struggle was worth all that effort apparently.

The revised “austerity” version of the Ministerial Handbook is an obscene middle finger to the rest of South Africa from a bunch of entitled incompetents who have reduced this country to an international joke. Outside of the Western Cape most of the government books don’t balance, we hear of more millions going missing every day and we can’t even guarantee our electricity supply beyond January.

I wonder what the arrangement for ministerial cars for private use is in places like the UK? My understanding is that cabinet ministers can be transported to official functions in an upmarket vehicle owned and maintained by their department but the chances of finding a tax payer sponsored brand new Jaguar XJS for their own personal use in their own driveway is unthinkable. There would be a massive public outcry, as indeed there would in most European countries. In Sweden, there are no political perks and politicians travel to work on public transport with their voters.

Our uniquely African interpretation of “demockracy” cannot go on like this. The money will eventually run out, the welfare payments will slow to a trickle and civil servants will find that their salaries are either not paid in full or paid late. One thing that won’t happen though is any sign of cost cutting from those in power. Those closest to the trough always have the advantage. To quote one of their own struggle slogans…. “it’s our turn to eat”. Bon appetit.

(Out to Lunch will be taking a short break over the festive season and will return on January 8th….Seasons Greetings to you all and thanks for all the comments, kind or otherwise)