After working off the previous version for 12 years, and promising updates which never materialised, the South African government finally published its revised Guide for Members of the Executive towards the end of June 2019.

The previous version was issued during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki in 2007 and as such, was sorely out of date. Public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu, in a recent circular sent to government officials, noted that the president had approved the new version and that the new rules became effective on 8 June 2019. The guide, which pertains to ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, and members of executive councils (MECs), contains provisions for residences and relocations, domestic and international travel, transport, security, and more.

Mchunu optimistically requested that ministers ensure that “fiscal prudence is taken into account when applying the provisions thereof.”

This instruction has not been enthusiastically carried out over the years – for instance, as far back as 2009 an article in The Guardian outlined extravagance in the purchasing of cars, and this habit of using taxpayers’ money to drive in style continued for years. In 2014, the new government was said to be about to spend almost R100-million on luxury cars – for an already overstuffed Cabinet.

The new perks, for the most part, appear to be the same or slightly decreased, compared to the previous ministerial handbook. One of the guide’s first provisions is that, “Upon being sworn in, the Executive Ethics Code shall be complied with and the Member shall disclose particulars of all his/her financial interests to the Secretary of Cabinet within the prescribed timeframe, which period commences on the day of the swearing in.”

This, too, has been complied with slowly and, South Africans would be forgiven for thinking, reluctantly. The most recent version of the register of members’ interests, on the parliamentary website, dates back to 2017.

Other provisions allow top officials to double the staff complement at their offices, compared to the previous version, where ministers and premiers could have 10 core support staff, while deputy ministers and MECs were entitled to as much as six. The new guidelines allow for 15 posts in ministers’ offices, while premiers and MECs will each have 13 staff, and deputy ministers will have 11.

Meanwhile, the government will allow more for security at private residences designated as official residences, increasing this amount to R250 000 from R100 000. This amount will be adjusted annually by the finance minister and police minister on 1 July each year, based on the inflation rate.

Should the cost of security measures be more than R250 000, the individual in question will be responsible for the difference. Members are also responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of a private residence designated as an official residence.

In terms of vehicles, the finance minister has the power to curb spending on luxury cars and other perks according to the guide and in line with government’s overall austerity measures.

Departments must purchase official vehicles through the National Treasury’s transversal contract, concluded in consultation with the police minister, which covers bulk purchases directly from manufacturers. Officials are not obliged to get an official vehicle, though, and in the event that the official chooses to use their private vehicle for official purposes, they will be reimbursed in terms of the tariff determined by the finance minister.

At the beginning of June, finance minister Tito Mboweni and co-operative governance minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced plans to cut costs in municipalities – one of the instructions was that South Africa’s 257 mayors would have to use public transport or shuttles, and stop hiring expensive luxury cars.

Don’t be corrupt, that’s all

Mchunu has also spoken out against officials becoming involved in corruption. At the beginning of June, at an event to welcome him as the minister for Public Service and Administration, Mchunu urged government employees to live within their means.

“You can live without corruption … You can work for government, getting your salary…whatever salary you are getting, satisfy your needs step by step and live a normal life where you will be able to cater for yourselves and your family.

“We can live normal lives that are progressive without stealing a cent from government, it is possible,” he said.

Mchunu said corruption undid the good work government has been doing, and that its reputation for corruption has overshadowed all of the progress made during the past 25 years. “We struggle to tell people out there what democracy is all about. Indeed, the bad seems to have buried the good things that have been done by this government and witnessed by everybody,” he said.

With a new administration in place, it was time for public servants to change how they do their work, Mchunu said. They must enjoy working for government and serve the nation by rendering quality services.

“Don’t stand between government and the people enjoying progress in your own lives by failing to do what government is asking you to do,” he said, adding that there is a huge responsibility to deliver services to the 57-million people who expect public servants to take initiative, perform, go more often down to provinces, and do their work with speed.

People no longer want government leaders who visit their communities to offer empty promises. The days where people will just be happy to see a minister or mayor in their area are gone. “Public servants should be people of conscience with an urge to take South Africa forward.”

Photo from Daily Maverick