By Dale T. McKinley · 10 May 2011
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 behaviour 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.”
Officially, according to the Department of Public Service and Administration, the handbook is ‘a classified document’ only accessible to the public through the use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). Of course, this is an absolutely outrageous and untenuous position given that the handbook is, as its opening line states, a ‘guideline for benefits and privileges to which members and their families are entitled, in the execution of their duties’. Translated, what that really means is that the handbook is a specific type of public policy for a specific type of public official.
Since almost every senior politician including the President himself, has at one point or another over the last several years publicly cited the handbook to justify their expenditure of public monies and at times questionable individual business dealings, there can be no question of privatising its contents. 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. It’s called democracy.
So what have they been hiding from us all these years?
Importantly, the handbook’s first chapter clearly sets out what ministers cannot do. They cannot: “use their position or any information entrusted to them, to enrich themselves or improperly benefit any other person; expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and their financial and/or personal interests; (and) make improper use of any allowance or payment properly made to them.” The importance here lies in the fact that these are the golden standards against which the actions of all ministers must be judged. If, as has been the case, the public itself is not aware of such applicable standards then the ability to assess and judge adherence to them becomes the sole preserve of the ministers’ boss (the President and/or Premiers) who themselves are also subject to the standards. That’s called despotism.
The rest of the handbook is given over to exhaustively detailing all of the ‘benefits and privileges’ to which our senior politicians are entitled. Not surprisingly, they read like a members guide to the most exclusive political club in the country. Leaving aside the 40%+ of our population who have no regular income, unlike those of us in South Africa who actually do have a formal job income and who diligently cough up increasing amounts of it to the tax authorities, the base salaries of our political illuminati are tax-free. They receive what the handbook calls an “inclusive remuneration package” which includes top-up provisions for all tax liabilities. Additionally, the package provides for a housing allowance equivalent to 10% of the base salary, a full medical aid deal, death benefits as well as disability and funeral cover.
When it’s all added up the full salary amount that ‘club members’ receive puts them into the rarefied stratosphere of the top 0, 1% of all earners in South Africa. Our President sits at the apex of the golden triangle, pulling in a cool R2, 3 million a year. Then come national ministers on R1, 8 million a year, provincial premier’s on R1, 6 million, deputy ministers at R1, 5 million and the ‘poor’ provincial MECs who have to make do with R1, 4 million. When compared to the average salary of a worker which now stands at around R35,000 a year, not to mention the jobless millions whose average income from all sources tops out at R15 000 a year, this exclusive club of public representatives constitutes nothing less than a political aristocracy.
However, the lavish salaries are only the first course of the meal. While all members are entitled to a free state-owned residence, national ministers can also occupy a second state-owned house (if available in the ‘other capital’). For this second home, they are only required to pay what the handbook laughably calls, "a monthly market-related rental" which is calculated by taking 1% of their base salary and dividing it by 12. That comes out to around R1,500 per month, an amount that would not even get you a decent one-bedroom flat in Hillbrow. Besides this though, members’ housing privileges also include free water and electricity, all cleaning/domestic services, gardening, security, internet/phone, insurance and removal expenses. If the ministers want to have a private social function at their public residences, the state even chips in a free marquee, lighting and tables/chairs for “at least 150 guests.”
The gravy continues to flow when members and their families “out of necessity,” are somehow not able to make use of any of their official homes or numerous state residences when on ‘official business’. In these cases, they are entitled to stay at “any hotel or hostelry” at the expense of the state, something that has clearly put a big smile on the faces of a number of five-star establishments both at home and abroad. The minister doesn’t even have to hand over any of his/her spare change during such ‘temporary stays’ since the state also covers all “reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.” As if that is not enough, there is a further subsistence allowance available to “compensate him/her for incidental expenses not paid for by the host.” In an obvious stab at containing the well-established profligacy of some ministers on this front, the handbook offers a laconic antidote that such expenses “should be kept as low as possible by making use of hotels which suit the status of members but which have reasonable tariffs” … wink, wink.
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 Martins and Lamborghinis 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?
They are only on R30,000 per month, which will only give them R1,800,000 over 5 years for a part time position.
Nelson Mandela Metro councillors voted for and get R65,000 per month.
Could you give us a link to a copy of this 'Ministerial Handbook' so we can study it first hand please? Do a Wikileaks if necessary.
@ W Basson
It's available here: http://mg.co.za/article/2011-04-15-the-elusive-ministerial-handbook
We need a revolution, now!!!