New ministerial perks handbook to thin the gravy
The wings of high-flying ministers have been clipped under new rules barring them from flying first class and taking their spouses on unlimited international trips.
Cabinet ministers and their deputies will also no longer be allowed to splurge on luxury cars such as "Porsches and Mercedes-Benz S-class" procured with taxpayers' money.
This is according to public service & administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo, who this week outlined details of the revised ministerial handbook to be implemented after the May elections.
Dlodlo told the Sunday Times that in terms of the amended handbook, which has been 10 years in the making, the National Treasury will now be the department in charge of buying vehicles for all ministers, their deputies, MECs and provincial premiers.
Dlodlo said the Treasury will work with the police - and only the police - to determine which vehicles are suitable and safe for official use. This is aimed at preventing politicians from procuring over-the-top vehicles as the government scrambles to find measures to stop wasteful spending.
"Between the minister of finance and the minister of police, they will determine the type of cars that are appropriate - looking at cost efficiencies … so it will not be the decision of the department or, for that matter, the minister."
Dlodlo said her department has recommended that the amount ministers spend on their official cars be reduced.
The ministerial handbook currently provides for ministers to spend 70% of their annual salaries (R1.3m) as a vehicle allowance.
"The type of vehicle must be determined by the minister of police. I don't think he is going to say you can buy Porsche cars or … an S-class [Mercedes]," said Dlodlo.
The issue of ministers and deputy ministers forking out millions of rands of public money for top-of-the-range vehicles has been controversial for several years.
A series of parliamentary questions by opposition MPs uncovered that the government spent up to R42m on luxury vehicles for ministers and deputy ministers between 2014 and 2017.
Dlodlo said the new guidelines will also put a complete stop to first-class air travel for all members of the national executive.
Furthermore, ministers and deputy ministers will be limited to taking their spouse along on only two international trips a year. Currently there is no limit to this.
"We have to take into account that if Ayanda is going for two weeks at a time, there should be that provision for a spouse to accompany the minister or deputy minister. But that is only accommodated for two trips. Not more than that. We now cut it down to two a year," Dlodlo said.
The issue of international spousal travel provoked a public outcry last year when it emerged that former finance minister Malusi Gigaba took his wife Norma on trips to China, the UK and the US at a cost to the taxpayer of close to R900,000.
International travel of spouses will also have to be sanctioned by the president.
"It is not automatic. If you want to take your spouse with you, the president must sanction it," the minister said.
Dlodlo said her department is also reviewing the number of free flights allocated to former MPs and former ministers as a post-retirement benefit.
The proposed amendments to the ministerial handbook have been presented to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who sent them back to the minister for further adjustments in line with the looming reconfiguration of the government. Last month the Sunday Times reported that the reconfigured executive may consist of only 40 ministers and deputies. At the moment there are 73 members of the national executive.
"We now have to take the document back to the president so that we can engage on areas he wants us to do further work on," said Dlodlo. "I can tell you it's something that can only be implemented after the inauguration of the new president." The reconfiguration of the cabinet, she said, is "99%" done.