Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma has given the country’s top politicians a R45 million salary hike for the financial year ending in March, despite his earlier call for a pay freeze. Zuma gave politicians, including members of his executive, premiers, MPs, MECs and MPLs, a late Christmas present on January 3 when he signed their 5 percent wage hike.
The increases were gazetted last Thursday.
Calculations by The Sunday Independent show that the increases for 34 ministers, 33 deputies as well as 52 chairpersons of parliamentary committees, 53 parliamentary whips, leaders of opposition parties, about 200 ordinary MPs, nine premiers, 90 MECs and 331 ordinary members of provincial legislatures will cost the public purse at least R45m in the 2013/14 financial year alone.
Zuma, who did not take a pay hike in the 2013/14 period, ignored recommendations of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers not to increase salaries of politicians earning R1 million and above.
The wage hikes will be backdated to April last year.
In October 2012, Zuma called on private sector chief executives, executive directors and senior executives to freeze salary increases and bonuses over the next 12 months as a commitment to build an equitable economy and address income inequalities.
In its document showing reasons for its recommendation, the remuneration commission said it chose not to hike politicians’ salaries of more than R1m to overcome perpetual perceptions on pay inequities reinforced by an increase of the same percentage for all categories of public office bearers.
It had recommended that politicians earning below R500 000 get a 7 percent increase, 5 percent for those paid between R500 000 and R800 000, 4 percent for the R800 000 to R1m category and no increase for those earning more than R1m.
The commission also hoped its recommendation would address a call by stakeholders to tackle the widening gap between remuneration levels, to ensure gradual internal equity among recipients of the pay hikes and set an example for the private sector.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj defended Zuma’s decision, saying the commission’s recommendation needed to be worked out carefully and that the National Treasury should create systems for the differentiated increase (a sliding scale).
Maharaj said Zuma did not accept the sliding scale as recommended by the commission, but took everything into consideration. Last month, the presidency said Zuma’s decision was based on the commission’s recommendations, affordability of the different levels of remuneration, the social and economic context, the level of inflation and its impact on the buying power of public office bearers’ incomes.
Zuma approved 5 percent increases ranging from R43 000 for MPLs to R118 000 for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairman Mninwa Mahlangu. Ministers got just above R100 000 while premiers received more than R94 000.
Following Zuma’s decision, Motlanthe, Sisulu and Mahlangu will earn about R2.5m, up from less than R2.4m, while ministers will be paid R2.1m, compared with R2m previously.
ANC chief chip Stone Sizani, the ruling party’s NCOP chief whip Nosipho Ntwanambi, DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Zuma’s parliamentary counsellor, retired General Siphiwe Nyanda, will now earn R1.36m, up from just below R1.3m.
Leaders of the other opposition parties represented in Parliament will now be paid R1.115m, increased from R1.062m.
Ordinary MPs will earn R933 852, up from R889 383, while MPLs will be paid R903 826, previously R860 787.
Last year, The Sunday Independent reported that directors-general received their 5.6 percent salary increase, but it (the increase) would be deducted every month between April 2013 and the end of March this year.
Directors-general also voluntarily relinquished their 2012/13 bonuses in response to Zuma’s call for both public and private sector executives to freeze increases for a year to help fight inequalities and the widening income gap.
According to the commission, compensation of employees will be 35 percent of the government’s total expenditure by 2015/16, due to efforts to restrain growth in personnel numbers.
The commission has also rejected a proposal to pay a once-off gratuity to non-returning MPs and MPLs if they are not re-elected after the upcoming general elections.
It says representations it received proposed a gratuity of 13.3 percent of an MP or MPL’s pensionable salary for each year of service to assist with paying off debts such as mortgage bonds and car loans.
The once-off gratuity could be back on the agenda if properly motivated by stakeholders and subject to consultation with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to establish affordability, according to the commission.
A similar gratuity of a three-month salary was given to hundreds of councillors who served between March 2006 and the 2011 local government elections.
The commission argued that the councillors’ gratuity would “bridge remuneration shortfalls and consequent financial constraints following non-election while they were making alternative employment arrangements or waiting for the processing of retirement benefits” and was affordable.
Gordhan made provision for the payment of R15m to non-returning councillors eligible for the once-off gratuity in last year’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement.
Commissioner in the commission, Professor Pearl Sithole, said they considered inflation, affordability and the general economic situation in the country when making their decision.
“This particular year, we decided on a sliding scale because we’re worried about the economic gap generated by blanket recommendation for all public office bearers,” Sithole said.
She said the commission did not know the considerations Zuma made, but the president was responsible for the final determination. “What the president, in his wisdom, considered, we’re not quite sure,” Sithole said.
She said the commission was comfortable that it did its work independently.
“What we have put forward is an earnest labour of our expertise.”
The country’s 10 055 councillors in 278 municipalities look set to get more perks despite the National Treasury’s warning to municipalities to curtail unnecessary spending on “nice-to-haves and non-essential activities”.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Lechesa Tsenoli has agreed to introduce increased monthly cellphone allowances (up to R3 319 for metro mayors and R1 656 for councillors), extending risk benefits to councillors at the cost of municipalities to include life cover and personal security to mayors and councillors subject to a threat and risk analysis by the SA Police Service.