MPs lose their seats, but hold on to houses
De Lille gets tough with those who are refusing to move
Parliament is splurging R76m on "loss-of-office-gratuities" for MPs that failed to make a comeback after the elections, but some of them are refusing to vacate state allocated houses despite the added sweetener.
The splurge on "gratuities" to MPs who did not return to parliament after the May 8 election was confirmed by Joe Nkuna, the acting chief financial officer, who told a meeting that was discussing Parliament’s finances that the legislature had so far forked out R76m of taxpayers' money to top up the retirement packages of exiting MPs.
He was responding to a question from DA MP John Steenhuisen.
The amount was expected to keep rising in the coming weeks as payments were still being processed. All former ministers and MPs who completed at least a five-year term in office qualify for the benefit which amounts to four months' pensionable salary for every five years of service completed.
Former ministers such as Jeff Radebe and Derek Hanekom, who have been in parliament since 1994, will be smiling all the way to the bank as they stand to pocket at least R4.8 million each, given their ministerial salaries of around R208 000 a month at the time of their retirement.
The gratuity has been criticised as an unnecessary and expensive benefit. While it was initially proposed as a of loss of office benefit, some of the former MPs who received it ended up taking up other plum positions in the public sector or even returned to parliament a few years later.
Steenhuisen on Friday said given the dwindling public purse, it was time to reconsider the gratuity, which was gazetted in 2008.
What was originally intended as an amount to help get you back on your feet after leaving parliament has now turned into a R1m-plus cash bonanzaDA MP John Steenhuisen
"I think it would be important to look at what the original intention of the gratuity was and what it was meant to cover and work it out from there. What was originally intended as an amount to help get you back on your feet after leaving Parliament has now turned into a R1million plus cash bonanza for many members," he said.
Meanwhile, some of the former MPs due this generous sweetener had to be forcibly removed from their houses at parliamentary villages after defying a notice to evacuate the properties by 30 June. Parliament has spent at least R1 million to put new MPs up in pricey hotels for up to two weeks due to exiting MPs’ refusal to vacate the houses. These cost up to R2 000 a night.
Public Works minister Patricia de Lille told the Sunday Times that her department and Parliament had to dispatch a team of officials to parliamentary villages to force former MPs out of the homes.
"Two weeks after the notice date, they refused to give the keys. We'll get blamed when people stay longer in hotels. I said to them let's act, we’ve got fifteen people to help us from parliament, you go pack their personal stuff into boxes, you seal them, put them in a safe space and change the locks.
"If any of them had contacted me I would have told them that you're ignoring us and there are (new) MPs waiting for houses. It's ill-discipline and it's really embarrassing,” De Lille said.
Former MPs are 30 days after the start of the new parliament to vacate the houses. Pemmy Majodina, the chief whip of the ANC, said they spent last weekend moving from "park to park," evicting 23 former MPs who are illegally occupying state houses.
Majodina said some of the MPs pleaded for extensions, arguing that their children were still in the middle of a school year in Cape Town. Others said they were still awaiting the payment of their pension benefits.
She said some former MPs had also left children of school going age on their own in the homes.
“There were young children and we warned an MP that 'there is a children's Act that we may retrieve to deal with you for child neglect. Come and fetch your child” said Majodina.
At another house, Mojodina revealed, the "child" a former MP was pleading for his non-eviction, turned out be a grown man with a wife and his own kid.
Moloto Mothapo, the spokesperson of parliament has sought to downplay the eviction drama, saying the majority of non-returning MPs from all parties had complied with the vacation deadline of June 30.
He said only a small number had requested extensions due to a wide range of personal and logistical reasons. Mothapo said all MPs who had been temporarily staying at hotels had been allocated houses by Friday.
Mothapo also said public works, not parliament, was responsible for paying for the hotel stays.
* A shortened version of this story was published in Sunday Times. The new online version contains the original full version that includes parliament's comment