The cost of SA’s ‘bloated’ cabinet and all those ministerial perks
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to considerably reduce the size of his cabinet following the elections. Senior ANC official Fikile Mbalula recently said that Ramaphosa also has the full backing of the ANC to do away with some ministries. “Cabinet will be cut to below 30 positions,” Mbalula, the party’s head of elections and a former police minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday.
“A study and a report has been done by the ANC and so it will be a reality.” In December 2018, the Presidency announced that there would be a retrospective salary increase freeze for the 2018/2019 financial year. This was applied retrospectively to April 1, 2018.
The below article by Africa Check, from 2018, gives a detailed overview of what ministers and their deputies cost taxpayers in 2017/2018, as well as all the perks of being part of SA’s cabinet.
In 2014, The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party calculated that South Africa’s 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers would cost taxpayers R720 million per year – or in the exaggeration of political speak, “almost a billion”. (Ed’s note: in late 2018 Ramaphosa merged the Department of Communications and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services).
The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has suggested that deputy minister positions should be done away with to save money.But how much do South African taxpayers really cough up for their cabinet? And more controversially: what other benefits and privileges are cabinet members allowed to claim?
Inspecting salary slips
For the 2017/18 financial year, the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers recommended a 4% salary increase for members of the national executive and deputy ministers.
Based on the recommendation, the president’s annual salary is set to rise to R2 989 845. Peter Makapan, the commission’s head of secretariat, told Africa Check that this increase still needs to be approved by parliament, however. Until it is approved he will continue to earn his 2016/17 salary of R2 874 851. (Ed’s note: In December 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa set a retrospective salary increase freeze for members of his Cabinet and others for the 2018/2019 financial year.)
A look at the perks
The Ministerial Handbook is a guide to the “benefits and privileges” that members of cabinet are entitled to, but government views it as a “classified, confidential document”. South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper managed to publish the 2007 version of the Ministerial Handbook, affording ordinary South Africans a glimpse of how far cabinet members’ perks stretch.
The Ministerial Handbook regulates everything from spending on Christmas cards to the picking of flowers at state residences (one needs permission from the chief horticulturalist to do so), but here is a look at the most often used – and abused – privileges.
Members of cabinet get 25% of their salary towards a private vehicle, its running and maintenance as well as comprehensive insurance. At an allowance of just more than R747 000, the president will be able to buy a sporty Mercedes-Benz C200 cabriolet or an Audi A6 2.0TDI SE.
Members receive this allowance whether or not they buy a car for themselves, burning up an additional R402 68 273 of taxpayers’ money at the latest salary determinations.
Ministers and deputy ministers are allowed to purchase one car for official use in Pretoria as well as one in Cape Town.
The value of each vehicle cannot be more than 70% of their salary. At the current salary determinations, a minister could therefore buy two cars to the value of R1.68 million each. (Note: Spending on official cars had been curbed in October 2013 by then Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan – to a suggested cap of R600 000 – but it is unclear whether it is being applied. Gordhan’s cost-cutting measures were approved by cabinet and also included putting an end to first class travel as well as cancelling government credit cards.)
Official vehicles can be replaced as soon as they have reached 120 000 km or have been in use for five years. Cabinet members are allowed to use official vehicles “for any reasonable purpose”, including taking their children to school.
Cabinet members can live free of charge in one state-owned residence in the capital of their choice. If they want to move into a second state-owned house for official purposes they must pay a “market related” rent. The formula provided in the handbook to calculate this is (Salary) x 1% divided by 12.
So R2 401 633 per minister x 1% / 12 = R2 001 per month, a sum for which an ordinary South African can rent a “spacious bachelor flat” in Khayelitsha or a “room in a neat and secured house” in Pretoria.
The State pays for a domestic worker to clean cabinet members’ official and private houses and also picks up the bill for renovations.
Cabinet members and their spouses may book first class tickets for official international journeys. (Note: Gordhan announced that cabinet members had to fly business class internationally, but again it is unclear whether it is being applied.)
They are also both entitled to 30 single business class flights per year within South Africa. Dependent children get six single economy class flights per year.If the cabinet member is not for flying, the handbook allows for them to travel by train – including South Africa’s luxury Blue Train.
Rates for the Pretoria/Cape Town route range from R16 430 to R38 420 one way.When travelling on official business, members, their spouses and dependent children can choose any hotel to stay in.
According to the Ministerial Handbook a cabinet members’ department can pay for all “reasonable” out-of-pocket expenses (“including gratuities and reading material, but excluding alcoholic beverages not consumed with a meal”) connected with the subsistence of the members, their spouses as well as family members who need to accompany them when travelling.
Slips only need to be supplied “if at all possible”.
Because of all the variables and unknowns, it is impossible to predict what the cabinet will cost South Africans beyond the members’ salaries and their private car allowances.
As if cabinet members’ do not have enough scope in complying with the handbook, it is unclear which regulations they are supposed to follow at the moment. As far as Africa Check could establish, it currently sits awkwardly between the 2007 version of the Ministerial Handbook, cost-cutting measures announced in 2013 and a looming amendment of the handbook.
A spokesman for the Treasury, Jabulani Sikhakhane, was reported to have said that “it is too early to tell how departments have responded to the cost-containment measures”.
And when contacted, Sikhakhane told us that spending on official cars was currently regulated by the handbook, not the cost-cutting measures. (Sikhakhane asked for our further questions – such as whether ministers are still able to travel first class internationally – to be emailed to him. We have not received a response to date.)
Then Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said, in 2013, that amendments to the Handbook and Gordhan’s cost-cutting measures would be aligned for consistency.
In 2014 a spokesman for the Department of Public Service and Administration, Brent Simons, told Africa Check that the amended Ministerial Handbook “is currently with the Presidency for discussion at cabinet level. We have not received it back from them and can therefore not respond to any of the questions you raise.”
It has been reported that an inter-ministerial committee has completed a review of the handbook and it is expected to be presented to cabinet. However, it is unclear when this will happen.
The moral of the story
Judith February, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ government, crime and justice division, argues that the amendment process should have involved the public.
“It should be the subject of public scrutiny and discussion because after all, our public representatives spend public money when they spend money on accommodation and cars and other benefits of office,” she said.
“The Handbook is extraordinarily lenient in some respects allowing expenditure which could be excessive ordinarily. Ministers have therefore used the Handbook as an excuse for expenditure which cannot be justified given the levels of inequality we live with.”
These sentiments are echoed by Murray Hunter, spokesman for the Right 2 Know Campaign: “There’s no excuse for secrecy in these matters, not only because it involves the use of public funds for private comfort but because it shines a light on the distance between the lives of those who are elected to lead, and the ordinary citizens they serve.”
Edited by Anim van Wyk
*This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.