Will ministers really watch what they spend?

By Staff Writer

Election Watch: by Angelique Ruzicka


Last year we heard some tough talk from finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, about how the government would be imposing ‘belt-tightening measures’. Back in October he was quoted as saying: “Although most government spending is effectively managed, there are many opportunities to cut or minimise costs and stop abuse.” His comments came after it was revealed that the president spent over R200m refurbishing his Nkandla home and that a number of ministers had splurged over R1m of taxpayers’ money on vehicles.


The measures, which were to come into effect from 1 December 2013, would include a limit on how much ministers could pay for cars, a limit on travel arrangements (with only ministers flying business class) and a ban on business credit cards to name but a few.


While consumers were warned not to overdo it this festive season, in terms of spending, it seems one minister chose to ignore this sound advice. This month, we learned that North West Premier, Thandi Modise, spent R1.3m on a new car despite Cabinet banning extravagant spending on luxury vehicles. Provincial transport MEC Raymond Elisha reportedly jumped to her defence after confirming the spend, saying that the minister hadn’t broken any laws. "The car was purchased in compliance with the ministerial handbook, which states that a car to the value of 70% of her annual salary can be purchased," he was quoted saying.


The Democratic Alliance said it would submit parliamentary questions to the Minister of Finance to establish whether the purchase was permitted under the new belt-tightening guidelines. “In addition, we call on Minister Gordhan to stick to his guns and not bow to political pressure to water-down his cost-saving measures. Every rand wasted is money that could have been spent on much-needed service delivery,” said Tim Harris, DA Shadow Minister of Finance.


The question is whether any further action will be done by government? And will it be enough if the opposition simply asks parliamentary questions? With the elections looming this year and the Nkandlagate scandal still largely on people’s minds, one would’ve thought that Cabinet would tread lightly and not engage in any extravagance. For now, it appears there’s little that opposition and the man on the street can do to curb ministers’ spending.
 

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