'Slash bloated cabinet, drop deputies'

Cuts vital, but Cyril Ramaphosa faces tough task to slim down executive

10 February 2019 - 00:04 By QAANITAH HUNTER


President Cyril Ramaphosa has been advised to do away with 10 ministerial positions in a reshaped executive to trim the fat.
According to a proposal on Ramaphosa's desk, his executive should be made up of only 25 ministers and 15 deputy ministers.
This will reduce the size of the executive he inherited from Jacob Zuma from 72 to 40.
During Zuma's tenure, the cabinet and the size of the executive expanded to 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers, leading to huge costs on the already strained fiscus.
Now Ramaphosa wants to overhaul the system that has been described as a means of dispensing political patronage.
While the decision to reduce the size of the cabinet might be welcomed by those concerned with how much the state spends on the executive, the move could make Ramaphosa less popular within the his own party.
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said the reconfiguration plan had not been finalised, but would be ready after the elections, which will take place on May 8.
"The president is on record having said that it is imperative that government is reconfigured to make it more cost-effective and more efficient," she said.
When asked about whether the president would accept the proposal to cut the size of the executive to 25 ministers and 15 deputies, Diko said Ramaphosa had since taken this commitment further by calling on society to give suggestions on how the government should be configured. However, insiders said Ramaphosa had made up his mind that there should be no deputy ministers in nonessential departments.
"How many people know the deputy minister of DMR [department of mineral resources]?" asked a presidency insider.
The role of deputy ministers is restricted by the constitution, which excludes them from the cabinet and they cannot act on behalf of a minister.
Insiders said several deputy ministers would be jobless after the elections.
"Deputy ministers are going to face it the hardest. "But if people think getting on the ANC list to parliament was going to secure them a space in cabinet, they must think again," the insider said.
The process was initially spearheaded by the minister of public service & administration, Ayanda Dlodlo.
It has now been moved to the presidency to come up with a final look at how the executive will be structured and what the cost implications will be.
A second source said the proposal submitted to the president was not final and would be subjected to amendments by the presidency.
The Sunday Times understands that departments are likely to be merged instead of being scrapped in an effort to prevent job losses.
"You would see one ministry now in charge of multiple entities. This is going to help duplication of work, cut costs and also make government fit for purpose," said a well-placed source.
The most affected would be the economic cluster, where departments like small business development, economic development and trade & industry may be merged.
It is understood that directors-general were informed that the government would lose at least 10 departments. However, they would only know which ones would be affected after the elections.
Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that elections would take place on May 8.
"We were told that 10 departments were affected and as we prepare handover reports from the fifth to the sixth administration, we must factor that in," said a director-general who asked not to be named.
The running of the cabinet is estimated to cost the taxpayer up to R720m a year.
Cabinet ministers earn more than R2m a year. Each deputy minister costs taxpayers about R1.9m.
Last year, 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers earned at least R163m. But their salaries are not the only burden on taxpayers. The cost of housing ministers in Pretoria and Cape Town has come under scrutiny as well.
The public works department had spent more than R188m in acquiring 33 properties in Pretoria and Cape Town at an average of R5.7m for each residence.
The DA estimated that last year the travel cost of ministers and deputy ministers was in the region of R296m.
An added expense is the bloated ministerial staffs. Though ministers are allowed between six and 10 staff and deputy ministers are allowed two, many ministers have exceeded this limit.
Insiders say Ramaphosa has been cautioned that reconfiguration of the state may lead to some instability in the public service and should be managed carefully.
Besides the administrative hurdles Ramaphosa may face, top ANC leaders have cautioned that the reduction of the size of the executive might lead to "people swapping sides" once left out of cabinet.
This comes as the ANC list process has become more competitive.
The party has predicted a reduction of seats it could win in the National Assembly from the 249 it holds.

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