Cape Town, with its international reputation, should be considered above Pretoria in the event the government was considering a single capital.
That was the response from Cape Chamber of Commerce president Janine Myburgh, while Mayor Patricia de Lille scoffed at the idea of moving Parliament to Pretoria to save on the costs of maintaining two capitals.
The idea, aimed at eliminating the need for duplicate houses and vehicles for ministers and their deputies, was revived by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation Address on Thursday after it died a quiet death in the late 1990s.
Commentators and opposition parties also dismissed the idea as “a red herring” intended to mask the government’s failure to tackle a structural budget deficit resulting from a cost base exceeding its revenue.
Jugal Mahabir, lecturer in public economics at the University of Johannesburg, said: “If you really wanted to make a dent in terms of the size of government, you’d have to take more aggressive action – say we’re reducing our cabinet a bit, or such things.”
While moving Parliament was a good idea in principle and could result in significant savings in the long term, it was a huge undertaking.
Apart from the costs of maintaining two households for members of the executive, and the travel and accommodation costs of government officials who must frequently travel to Cape Town to report to Parliament, having the legislature in the same city as the seat of government could improve productivity by saving travel time.
Government expenditure on consultants, travel and catering stood at R25 billion in 2013/14, a significant proportion of which would have been related to government delegations travelling to Parliament.
But Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan introduced limits on the sizes of government delegations in 2013, along with prescribing economy class flights for officials below the level of director-general, and limits on the class of vehicles to be used on official trips, as well as those purchased for ministers.
The measures announced by Zuma seek to intensify these steps, but Mahabir was sceptical about their likely effectiveness.
“The thing is, you can say these things, but whether they happen is a totally different issue.
“To be honest, there was not a lot of conviction in the things he said.”
The possibility of moving Parliament to Pretoria was first suggested under then-president Nelson Mandela, who set up a committee to report on the cost implications.
Furious lobbying by the two cities ended in a stalemate, and the topic has been raised sporadically ever since.
While a Cape Town-based estimate put the cost at the time at R3.5bn, the Pretoria lobby suggested it could be done for as little as R160 million in 1997 costs.