'Our time to eat'
Mpumalanga has thumbed its nose at Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene's austerity drive to rein in government expenditure.
Instead of reducing its budget, the Mpumalanga legislature this week rejected a motion by the DA to cut catering expenditure by half.
The catering budget had been increased to an estimated R11.5 million this year from R4.5-million in the 2013-2014 financial year.
This goes against the attempts of the speaker of the legislature, Thandi Shongwe, to curtail escalating expenses, including that of catering.
Legislature members are currently treated to full English breakfasts and lunches. If a legislature meeting goes on after 4pm, politicians are treated to platters of finger foods.
The wanton spending is not unique to Mpumalanga. This week it emerged that:
The Tshwane City Council had reportedly spent R15-million on takeaways for staff working overtime. The council denied the claim last night, saying the R15-million was the amount budgeted for three years and not a single month;
Last month, the Eastern Cape health department put out a tender worth more than R1-million for 1520 framed photographs of premier Phumulo Masualle and health MEC Pumza Dyantyi to be put up at all the province's health facilities.
Basil Kransdorff, whose company Econocom Foods makes fortified school meals, said the money spent by the Mpumalanga legislature and Tshwane on catering could have funded 30million food parcels.
He said there was a worrying number of children in South Africa practically starving.
"Rural areas are particularly affected, with the only meal that a large number of children receive being what they get at school.
"Many of our children, especially orphans, starve during school holidays. We have reports of children having to boil grass to fill their stomachs to stave off hunger."
The 30million parcels that could have been bought with the money spent on catering would have fed 10million children every day for a month, giving them the strength to learn.
"All that will happen now is that a very small number of people will become very obese."
The Treatment Action Campaign general secretary, Anele Yawa, slammed the spending.
"People in Mpumalanga are suffering but instead of spending money on improving crumbling health facilities, they treat the province's people like used condoms. They use them once, when they need them for votes, and then flush them down a toilet like a used condom."
He said with the R15-million budgeted by Tshwane at least five fully equipped mobile clinics stocked with essential drugs could have been bought. One mobile clinic can assist at least 5 000 people.
"We need to ask how many HIV-prevention programmes could have been rolled out and how many lives could have potentially been saved.
"Instead of being concerned about saving lives, our leaders are more interested in their stomachs. It is spent on people who have medical aids, pensions and homes."
National Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said he would comment today.
Mpumalnga DA spokesman Anthony Bernadie said: "The speaker indicated that in the current financial year the catering budget must be cut from R10-million to R5-million.
" But she didn't table any kind of mechanism that could be used to cut R5-million.
"We have been fighting these free meals for years. We tabled a formal proposal to the office of the speaker and yesterday, during the sitting we tabled a motion supporting the speaker in her proposal that the catering budget be cut."
He said the DA proposed that meals be subsidised or that members pay 100% for them.
"That's when the ANC voted against our proposal."