South Africa’s ministerial handbook uncovered

Published on Pambazuka News, by Dale McKinley, May  12, 2011.

As the public, we all have a right to know what rules and regulations govern the financial behaviour of our public officials and how they spend our public monies so that we can hold them accountable, writes Dale T. McKinley. So why is the South African government so keen to keep the contents of its ministerial handbook out of the public eye?

Most of us can surely well remember those times during childhood when we were caught eating something that we knew we shouldn’t and our immediate defence was to claim that mom or dad said we could. Well, that about sums up the contemporary behavior of many of our highest political office bearers, only in their case it’s not the sweets meant for the guests but public monies and it’s not parents who are the rationalising crutch but the ministerial handbook. Yes, the little handbook that so many have heard about but have never seen, that senior politician’s ‘bible’ which one South African journalist aptly called, a ‘get-out-of-jail free card’ … // 

… Next, comes a host of mind boggling travel ‘benefits’. Not only do all members receive a motor vehicle allowance which is 25% of their basic salary (itself not subject to acquiring ownership of a private vehicle), the state provides two official cars for national ministers and one for the less fortunate. Those who daily struggle to access what limited public transportation there is will be heartened to know that the cost of such cars cannot exceed 70% of the members’ annual inclusive salary. What a shame! That definitely takes Aston Martin’s and Lamborghini’s out of the picture.

But not to worry, when official vehicles are “not available” the state will cover the costs of “any transport” for the members and their spouses and also all transport expenses for family members when the minister is away on “official business”. In those cases when a minister chooses to make use of a private vehicle (when an official one is not procured), he/she can claim a tariff “equal to 3 times the standard running and maintenance” state allowance. And we thought local government politicians had it good.

When ministers take to the air on ‘official business’ ubuntu gets thrown even further out the window. It is business class on domestic flights and first class internationally. But if there are “time constraints” or the “facilities of commercial airlines are not cost-effective and/or readily available”, our political elite can make use of SANDF as well as chartered aircraft. Even after the ministers have left office they are entitled to 48 single domestic flights per year as well as 24 for their spouses. Ex-deputy ministers only get 36 flights while their spouses must make do with 18.

If anyone has concerns that our political illuminati might join the vast majority of the population in old-age poverty once they have left office, put them to rest. With the state’s monthly contribution standing at 17% of basic salary, each minister is guaranteed a retirement “benefit … equal to 92, 5% of pensionable salary”. Even better for these public representatives, while there is no official retirement age for ordinary folks in South Africa, the handbook informs us that their “normal” retirement age is 50 years old. Talk about a sunset clause!

There you have it – it certainly pays to be a top-level public servant. The contents of the handbook clearly obviate the need, if there ever was one, for us to take seriously the continued political propaganda about how our top politicians are close to the people. What we have here is the official sanctioning of a better life for the few, in the name of the many. Thomas Sankara, where are you? (full text).

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