Counting the cost of democracy in SAComment on this story
Cape Town -
Democracy doesn’t come cheap. Newly minted members of Parliament have spent the past week being introduced to the horrible Cape Town weather and some of the spoils of their electoral success.
The price tag for the running of Parliament, the salaries of MPs and their handsome perks, stands at R1.99 billion, according to the estimates of national expenditure tabled in February.
Of this, R481 million is for the remuneration of members - providing for an annual pensionable salary of R933 852 for the most junior MPs.
Perks, which Parliament terms “members’ facilities”, come in at R223.9m, more than half of which is for travel and subsistence - to keep MPs who come to Cape Town from the far corners of the land in touch with their families and, hopefully, constituencies.
There’s also R257.8m set aside for the running of constituency offices - where members of the public are supposed to have the ear of their representatives - but these are often neglected.
Each MP gets 86 single domestic flights a year - economy class, unless they’ve been a lawmaker for more than 10 years.
At an average price of a ticket between Cape Town and Joburg of R3 500, that’s about R300 000 a year each on flights alone (connecting flights to the airport nearest home count as part of the same journey).
Those with more time on their hands, or who suffer from a fear of flying, can take the train, as long as it costs no more than the same journey would have cost by air.
MPs usually knock off for the week on a Thursday evening, returning in time for committee meetings on Tuesday morning, officially because they are expected to spend time in their constituencies on a Monday.
The more diligent among them may also have piles of documents to read in preparation for the week ahead.
They may take the bus or drive themselves home if they prefer and, if they’re travelling more than 800km, are entitled to stay at a hotel at a maximum cost of R1 850 a night.
But it’s not all one-way traffic.
Spouses and registered partners may make use of the same flight allocation, while children get between 60 and 12 flights a year, depending on their age.
Parents and in-laws also get to visit their offspring at state expense, but only once if they buy a return.
Of course, the journey doesn’t end at the airport, and that too is covered.
There’s an airport parking allowance of R44 000 a year, and the onward journey by car or taxi is also covered at a fixed rate, provided the member goes straight home via the shortest route.
For just R250 a month, MPs from out of town are put up in parliamentary villages, where they get free electricity and water, gardening services, transport to school for their children, and a bus ride to and from Parliament for themselves.
The Department of Public Works said this week it was up to parties to make sure their MPs who didn’t make the cut this time moved out so that new members could be accommodated.
In the meantime, they were being put up in hotels “within the limits” set by the National Treasury.