A few months ago, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi warned corrupt officials that they could run but they could not hide. This week, it was revealed that his department spent millions of rand on renovating ministers’ houses. While this has not yet proven to be clear-cut corruption, it smacks of extreme wasteful expenditure, which means less public money is available to those who need it most.
This department has been on both the zero and hero lists before, but Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi seems to be enjoying making Corruption Watch’s zero list: last year, he spent more taxpayers’ money to upgrade the homes of several politicians.
The first issue is to figure out what “wasteful expenditure” means, legally speaking. The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) defines the phrase “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” as “expenditure which was made in vain and would have been avoided had reasonable care been exercised.” Fruitless and wasteful expenditure does not necessarily imply that the expenditure was corrupt – it could simply be the result of negligence or poor financial planning.
Earlier this week, the spokesperson for the department, Mandisa Fatyela-Lindie, confirmed that 27 ministers’ homes had been upgraded during the 2011/2012 budget year. “The department has spent R65-million of its allocated budget under its prestige portfolio effecting renovations and improvements to a number of state-owned houses in both Cape Town and Pretoria allocated to members of the executive,” she said.
Her comments were in response to a parliamentary question from the DA in December 2012.
The home of Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti topped the list of renovations, with R15-million spent on his home in Cape Town. Transport Deputy Minister Lydia Chikunga got the government to foot the R10-million bill on her house, and another former zero, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, got a little under R5-million to upgrade her dwelling.
Joemat-Petterssonhas a history of enjoying the finer things funded by the South African taxpayer. She made news in 2011 for spending more than R600 000, in one month, at two top hotels in Johannesburg while waiting for her official government residences in Cape Town and Pretoria to be ready.
This was after she spent R150 000 in 2010 to fly her children and au pair home early from their holiday abroad, after she was recalled because of President Jacob Zuma’s wedding.
Nxesi was highlighted as a hero by Corruption Watch in August, after he made a bold statement that he would tackle corrupt officials who used state cash for personal gain. “To corrupt individuals, I want to leave you with the following thought: you can run, but you can’t hide. If you steal from the poor we are coming to get you,” he said at a news conference in August 2012.
But these strong words were quickly lost when he condoned and signed off on the R250-million worth of security upgrades done to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.