Living like rock stars: SA’s government officials enjoy lavish perks at taxpayers’ expense – Ivo Vegter

The South African Democratic Alliance (DA) party has held a protest against the extravagant lifestyles of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, accusing them of “looting” and “living like rock stars.” The party claims that most of the country’s 65 ministers and deputy ministers enjoy state-owned luxury accommodation with their own staff, a second high-end vehicle, and free generators. The government pays for two luxury motor vehicles, security at up to three residences, and air travel 20 times per year for personal use, among other benefits. In addition, provincial premiers, mayors, and municipal managers receive similarly high salaries and perks. To read more, find the article below.


The entire political class and public sector is overpaid

By Ivo Vegter

Scrutiny often falls on the infamous Ministerial Handbook, which prescribes the opulent benefits to which the useless fat cats in cabinet are entitled. 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) held a protest at the opulent Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria, where the up-country mansions of cabinet ministers are located overlooking the Presidential Golf Course. The party accuses the ministers of ‘living like rock stars’, and equates the Ministerial Handbook with ‘looting’. 

There are no photographs beyond the gates of the Estate. On Google Maps, it is identifiable by the generous size and spacing between mansions, and the absence of the Street View imagery (indicated by blue lines):

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Most of our bloated cabinet (I say ‘bloated’, but at 30 ministers it isn’t quite the size of the average primary school class yet) also enjoys state-owned luxury accommodation in the fair Cape, complete with their own staff, a second high-end vehicle, and free generators. (Bryntirion doesn’t need generators, since it never gets switched off.)

To house South Africa’s 65 ministers and deputy ministers, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure owns 97 mansions, with an average value of R10 million each. 

Forty-nine of them are in Pretoria, and are valued (likely substantially under-valued) at R137 million in total. A further 58 are in Cape Town, worth an eye-watering R830 million in total. The 26 Cape Town homes occupied by cabinet ministers are worth an average of R23.4 million each.

Lavish lifestyles

Ministers and deputy ministers earn about R2.5 million and R2 million per annum, respectively. This would be enough to fund an extremely comfortable lifestyle, but they are not required to fund much of their lifestyles at all. 

The government pays fully for one of their mansions, and charges a nominal rent for a second state-owned mansion. The government pays for security at up to three residences (two state-owned and one private), as well as blue-light brigades. It also pays for a guard house at each official residence.

The government pays for two luxury motor vehicles and their SAPS chauffeurs. The government pays for the maintenance of those vehicles, including tyres, fuel, oil, toll fees and repairs. Not only are the glorious leaders of the revolution immune from the electricity price, they’re also immune from the fuel price.

The government pays for their air travel, not only for official duties, but also 20 times per year for personal travel. It also covers the cost of air force aircraft or chartered aeroplanes, when they’re in a hurry to get somewhere. 

It ‘encourages’ the use of first- or business-class VIP lounges at airports, ‘for security purposes’. Can’t have cabinet members mix with the proletariat, after all.

The government pays for partners to accompany ministers on international travel twice a year. While travelling, accommodation expenses… wait, I have to quote this: ‘Accommodation and subsistence expenses should be kept as low as possible by making use of hotels which suit the status of Members, but which have reasonable tariffs (5 star graded hotel or equivalent of a South African 5 star graded hotel’. My italics.)

Perish the thought that people with such high status be caught saving taxpayer money by slumming it in four-star hotels.

The government pays their water and lights, up to R5 000 per month. The government pays their cellphone bills, up to R5 000 per month. The government pays for their computer equipment, internet access, wifi networks, and television subscription channels. The government pays for their full-time domestic staff. 

The government pays for their private medical aid, their pension plan, and in the end, their funerals.

The only thing I can think of that ministers must buy from their salaries is food and clothing, and judging by their girth, their tailored threads and their branded accessories, they are evidently not shy to splash out on them.

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All levels of government

Although the crass opulence of the lifestyles of our ministers and deputy ministers grabs headlines, this lavish remuneration repeats itself at all levels of government, down to the civil services.

Provincial premiers earn up to R2.3 million. Everyone in provincial government, from ordinary members of the provincial legislature on up, earns R1.1 million or more per year. 

Mayors earn between R800 000 and R1.5 million. Members of the executive or mayoral committees earn between R600 000 and R1.1 million.

Municipal managers are paid between R1 million and R4 million per year, depending on the category of municipality by which they are employed. (All numbers are rounded to the nearest R100 000.) 

Managers reporting to the municipal managers earn between just north of R800 000 and about R3,2 million. That is, at a bare minimum, R69 000 per month

All of these positions come with perks, too, like health insurance, pensions, housing allowances, vehicles for more senior jobs, and vehicle allowances or access to government vehicles for less senior jobs.

In fact, the public sector in South Africa pays far more than the private sector does. According to a paper published in 2016 by the Development Policy Research Unit from the University of Cape Town, average public sector wages were 50% higher than comparable salaries in the private sector.

This makes all of government, the civil service and the state-owned enterprises, very desirable places to work from a purely pecuniary perspective. 

In the private sector, of course, one is expected to work for one’s pay. In the public sector, these things are far less clear-cut. For one, there is no competitive pressure to outperform business rivals, because there are no business rivals. You can do what you like, and the poor sods to whom you’re supposedly delivering a service just have to wait in line, with nowhere else to go. 

Unhealthily strong public sector unions protect under-performing workers, though in a gross conflict of interest they also happen to find themselves in an ‘alliance’ with the very government against whom they’re supposed to negotiate for their members.

These unions routinely demand, and despite Treasury’s best efforts often get, inflation-beating increases for their members.

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Trough

At all levels of government, therefore, from municipalities all the way up to cabinet, public sector jobs are simply a trough at which some three million people can eat. And that’s before we even begin to factor in the potential for corruption, self-dealing and embezzlement.

This is why rivalry for well-paying government jobs has often come to violence, and why government services are almost universally poor. All the incentives are wrong, and people get to live in the lap of luxury (or much better than their neighbours, at least) no matter how productive or unproductive they are at work.

The rot starts at Bryntirion, sure, but it permeates right down to the councillors and municipal employees in my own small town, who are feasting like there’s no tomorrow. 

Good luck to the government that tries to turn off the taps and put the public sector on a diet, though. Expect armed resistance.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend, the IRR or BizNews.

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