Public works urged to rethink spending on homes of ministers, MPs
The department of public works is planning to spend over R100m on its prestige property portfolio, but questions have been raised about such spending when millions of desperate South Africans are clamouring for food.
The portfolio includes so-called “prestige buildings” such as parliament, the Union Buildings and ministerial residences.
The department revealed during a briefing to a joint meeting of parliament's oversight committees on public works on Wednesday that almost R92m of the R102m budget will be spent on prestige accommodation and state functions and just over R11m on parliamentary villages.
A total of R35.2m is budgeted for parliamentary villages for the next three years: R11.2m for this financial year, R11.8m for 2021/22 and R12.2m for 2022/23.
The department, known as the government landlord, couldn't give the exact details of the planned projects, requesting more time to respond to an MP who queried the urgency of such projects during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I really think the citizens of our country, many of whom going through starvation or poverty at the moment because of the Covid-19 crisis, would like to hear that we are spending every single available cent on assisting them, that we are not spending money on state functions, prestige projects for cabinet ministers and MPs - particularly the parliamentary villages, which I know were due for many houses to be renovated, and MPs to be relocated,” said DA MP Tim Brauteseth.
Brauteseth said the renovations may be necessary in the long run, but right now the department should consider where the country is and put the prestige projects on hold.
He challenged them to bring changes and halt the prestige projects in the adjustment budget expected later next month.
Public works director-general Sam Vukela said he would submit a comprehensive response on Thursday, saying he was not able to respond fully for Brauteseth, who wanted to know how many projects were planned for the current financial year, what were they and the total amount of each project.
In its written presentation about the prestige projects, the department said the spending focus over the medium-term will be on developing and reviewing policies for the prestige accommodation portfolio, in line with the ministerial handbook, improving the delivery of services to prestige clients with regard to the provision of both movable and immovable assets, as well as meeting the protocol responsibilities for state functions.
It said the bulk of the expenditure in this programme goes towards compensating employees, as well as on goods and services. The main expenditure item within the goods and services related to state functions.
The government property portfolio has previously been criticised as wasteful, with the standing committee on public accounts in the last parliament slamming the splurge of hundreds of millions of rand on luxury items such as braai facilities, carpets and TVs for ministers.
In April last year, former public works minister Thulas Nxesi revealed government plans to spend nearly R730m to spruce up houses occupied by ministers, and other government-owned buildings.
The upgrades, renovations and maintenance were to include work at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, houses for MPs and ministers, and their offices within the parliamentary precinct that fall within the prestige portfolio.