Ministerial handbook is not the Bible

Ministers and premiers are not penalised if they demand less than the perks detailed in the ministerial handbook.

It prescribes the maximum, not the minimum, that may be claimed.

North West Province and government spokespersons are disingenuous in attempting to explain away the purchase of the new Seven Series BMW for Premier Thandi Modise. They think the public are fools.

I like Ms Modise. We served together in Parliament and I came to know her as a good and able person who had suffered a lot, including spending years in prison during the struggle.

But now she has allowed herself to be very badly advised. Since when is only a BMW 750i good enough for her? Would a Five Series not have done just as well? It would have saved the taxpayer a few hundred thousand rand.

The Western Cape long ago decided not to buy lavish vehicles but to go for more modest cars than the handbook maximum. Surprisingly, nowhere else in South Africa was this example followed.

We are told the decision to buy a new vehicle was taken before Minister Pravin Gordan announced the austerity measures. It has now been established, however, that the order was only placed after Gordan’s speech (even if the order had been placed beforehand, what car dealer would have refused to agree to

replacing the vehicle with a cheaper one?).

In other words, the North West Province and Premier Modise decided to ignore the finance minister’s appeal. They decided not to set a good example. Some people would call that showing the finger to the minister and to Parliament, the members of which so enthusiastically applauded the Gordan announcement.

The excuse used is that the ministerial handbook has not yet been amended. It says that ministers and premiers may acquire vehicles up to a certain value. Is the suggestion that if they buy a cheaper and less flashy vehicle they will have been guilty of violating some immutable law?

If Premier Modise can do this and get away with it, how many other executive functionaries of varying degrees of importance will also ignore the attempts of the minister of finance to curb wastage and extravagance with public money? The ministerial handbook has been clothed in magic and mystery, never to be fathomed by ordinary citizens who provide the cash for ministers and others to spend.

President Zuma announced in July 2009 that the new handbook would be tabled after amendment. Later, then-Minister Richard Baloyi embarrassingly claimed that the handbook was classified “Secret”.

After a fuss, he promised that it would be tabled soon. Four years later, we are still waiting and, it seems, ministers, premiers and others are also still waiting.

Until it is amended, the existing handbook will be treated like the Bible or the Constitution, and spending by these servants of the public will proceed so that only the maximum will be spent – never less – irrespective of what the minister of finance might want or what austerity measures he might announce.

Poor man. Can you imagine what a thankless task he has while the culture of entitlement reigns supreme?

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