Luxury travel, free housing and domestic staff along with salaries in the R2m a year bracket are all in store for the politicians who woke up as freshly minted members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet on Thursday.
AfricaCheck has crunched the numbers and found that cabinet ministers will receive an annual salary of R2,401,633.
Deputy ministers will receive an annual salary of R1,977,795.
Ramaphosa earns R2,874,851 a year while deputy president David Mabuza’s salary is R2,825,470.
A look at the perks
The ministerial handbook is a guide to the “benefits and privileges” that members of cabinet are entitled to, but government views it as a “classified, confidential document,” says AfricaCheck.
The ministerial handbook regulates everything from spending on Christmas cards to the picking of flowers at state residences (one needs permission from the chief horticulturalist to do so), but here is a look at the most often used – and abused – privileges.
Members of cabinet get 25% of their salary towards a private vehicle, its running and maintenance as well as comprehensive insurance. At an allowance of just more than R600,408, a minister will be able to buy a 2018 Mercedes-Benz C Class sedan or an Audi A4 2.0TDI Stronic.
Ministers (and deputy ministers) are allowed to purchase one car for official use in Pretoria as well as one in Cape Town.
The value of each vehicle cannot be more than 70% of their salary.
At the current salary determinations, a minister could therefore buy two cars to the value of R1.68m each.
Official vehicles can be replaced as soon as they have reached 120,000km or have been in use for five years. Cabinet members are allowed to use official vehicles “for any reasonable purpose”, including taking their children to school.
Cabinet members can live free of charge in one state-owned residence in the capital of their choice.
If they want to move into a second state-owned house for official purposes they must pay a “market related” rent. The formula provided in the handbook to calculate this is (salary) x 1% divided by 12.
So R2,401,633 per minister x 1% / 12 = R2,001 per month. For this amount an ordinary South African can rent a “nice spacious room” in Boksburg or a “flat” in Gugulethu.
The state pays for a domestic worker to clean cabinet members’ official and private houses and also picks up the bill for renovations.
Cabinet members and their spouses may book first class tickets for official international journeys.
They are also both entitled to 30 single business class flights per year within SA.
Dependent children get six single economy class flights per year.
If the cabinet member is not flying to a destination, the handbook allows for them to travel by train – including SA’s luxury Blue Train. Rates for the Pretoria/Cape Town route range from R18,405 to R43,035 one way.
When travelling on official business, members, their spouses and dependent children can choose any hotel to stay in.
According to the ministerial handbook a cabinet members’ department can pay for all “reasonable” out-of-pocket expenses (“including gratuities and reading material, but excluding alcoholic beverages not consumed with a meal”) connected with the subsistence of the members, their spouses as well as family members who need to accompany them when travelling.
Slips only need to be supplied “if at all possible”.
Because of all the variables and unknowns, AfricaCheck says, “it is impossible to predict what the cabinet will cost South Africans beyond the members’ salaries and their private car allowances.”
As if cabinet members’ do not have enough scope in complying with the handbook, it is unclear which regulations they are supposed to follow at the moment. As far as Africa Check could establish, it currently sits awkwardly between the 2007 version of the ministerial handbook, cost-cutting measures announced in 2013 and a looming amendment of the handbook.
A spokesman for the Treasury, Jabulani Sikhakhane, was reported to have said that “it is too early to tell how departments have responded to the cost-containment measures.”
It has been reported that an inter-ministerial committee has completed a review of the handbook and it is expected to be presented to cabinet. However, it is unclear when this will happen.
Judith February, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ government, crime and justice division, argues that the amendment process should have involved the public.
“It should be the subject of public scrutiny and discussion because after all, our public representatives spend public money when they spend money on accommodation and cars and other benefits of office,” she said.
“The handbook is extraordinarily lenient in some respects allowing expenditure which could be excessive ordinarily. Ministers have therefore used the handbook as an excuse for expenditure which cannot be justified given the levels of inequality we live with.”
These sentiments are echoed by Murray Hunter, spokesperson for the Right 2 Know Campaign: “There’s no excuse for secrecy in these matters, not only because it involves the use of public funds for private comfort but because it shines a light on the distance between the lives of those who are elected to lead, and the ordinary citizens they serve.”