The Democratic Alliance (DA) has achieved a significant victory in our ongoing battle to trim the wasteful excesses of the Ministerial Handbook. As a result of sustained pressure from the DA, the Minister for Public Service and Administration on Thursday announced during his budget speech that President Ramaphosa has appointed an inter-ministerial committee, composed of the finance, public works and public service and administration ministers, to review the Ministerial Handbook.
The minister specifically noted the lack of limits on spending on luxury vehicles and excessive spending on security upgrades. Minister Mchunu further referred to the current version of the Handbook as an “old-new” version – a public admission that nothing has changed and that wasteful spending on luxuries continues unabated despite the recent adoption of the so-called “revised” handbook.
This comes after weeks of sustained pressure from the DA in the parliamentary committee. During the first meeting of the committee last week, the DA had called on the minister to present and accept recommendations from the committee on how to cut wastage. The chairperson ultimately agreed, and at the next meeting, we will urge that the national Ministerial Handbook be brought in-line with the Handbook used in the DA-led Western Cape.
The Western Cape, which introduced its own, streamlined Handbook in 2011, has consistently been rated as the best-run government in South Africa. In the Western Cape, ministers even need permission from the Public Works department before they are allowed to pick flowers from the gardens of official residences. The Western Cape proves that it is not necessary to spend millions of rands on luxuries in order for ministers to do their jobs. Please see attached table for a comparison between the national Handbook and the Western Cape Handbook.
Although the DA welcomes the minister’s admission that the “old-new” handbook introduced no savings and is even more inappropriate in the current context of economic crisis, we are deeply concerned at the haphazard way in which the government is handling this important issue. President Ramaphosa recently signed-off on the “revised” Handbook, which was published on 8 June 2019, but only a month later he wants to revise it again.
The chaotic way in which the government is handling this matter indicates a worrying lack of leadership and coordination from the President, and suggests that he did not pay close attention when approving the “old-new” version just one month ago.
The DA will do everything in our power to make sure that, this time around, the Ministerial Handbook is treated with urgency and is significantly trimmed. Using the example set by the Western Cape, we will push for strict spending limits on vehicles, for ministers and deputies to fly economy class, to avoid stays in expensive 5 star hotels, to halve the number of ministerial support staff, and to completely eliminate the current provision that grants former ministers a lifetime of business class flights.
There is also no reason for this process to drag on indefinitely. After the first Handbook was adopted in 2007, the DA fought for 12 years to have it reviewed. The DA will thus propose in the parliamentary committee that a significantly trimmed new Handbook must go into full effect within no more than three months. The DA and the public are tired of waiting. Public money should be used to create prosperity for the people, not to buy Porsches for politicians.