High-flying Sisulu faces bumpy ride ahead
Newly appointed Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu looks set for a bumpy transition from the Defence Ministry after DA MP David Maynier delivered a parting shot accusing her of “abusing” her VIP flight privileges.
And Kobus Marais, the DA spokesman on public service and administration, has wasted no time in welcoming Sisulu to her new portfolio with a caution about the mess awaiting her as head of the department.
Responding to a batch of overdue parliamentary questions as she made her way out the Defence Ministry door this week, Sisulu said that the department “had spent R282.9 million on 806 VIP flights” since 2009. These included flights for President Jacob Zuma as the air force is responsible for his air travel.
Sisulu said in her reply that Zuma undertook 286 flights during this period at a cost of about R140.5m; Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s 213 flights cost R69.7m; while former president Thabo Mbeki had 39 flights, costing taxpayers about R32.1m.
“The average cost a flight for these three individuals was about R450 543. However, most shocking of all was that the minister undertook 268 flights at a cost of R40.5m,” Maynier said, noting that Sisulu had taken just 18 fewer flights than the president.
Sisulu used aircraft operated by the SA Air Force 267 times, and chartered a private aircraft once. But the minister will have to curb her jet-setting because, according to the ministerial handbook, she will qualify for only 30 free domestic flights a year.
“(Ministers) taking flights on military aircraft should be the exception, rather than the rule,” said Maynier.
“They could save taxpayers millions by making greater use of scheduled, commercial flights. Using military aircraft is far more expensive than commercial flights – taxpayers are paying an unnecessary premium.”
Marais alerted Sisulu to a Public Service Commission report tabled in Parliament this week that warned that the performance of public service managers was “poor and in some cases getting worse” .
“Improving the quality of service delivery requires that a number of areas of public management be addressed urgently,” the report says.
Marais said one of the report’s “most disconcerting findings” was high vacancy rates in key service areas.
The Public Service Commission found that the Health Department, for instance, was struggling with a vacancy rate of more than 50 percent – and of 61 percent for senior and professional posts. It took, on average, more than two years to fill a vacancy. In the Department of Basic Education, 35 percent of posts were vacant.
The report also said that spending patterns appeared to be improving across all government departments, but this did not necessarily translate into better or more efficient services.
“As (the report makes it clear), service delivery breaks down when the public service is not operating effectively. Minister Sisulu must provide effective leadership in delivering on her new mandate – to foster good governance and sound administration,” Marais said.
Sisulu is widely considered to be an energetic, dynamic and effective political master. She likes to get things done – and to have them seen to be done.
Her acrimonious clashes with defence force unions over the past two years have left some wondering how she will cope with the looming public sector wage negotiations, while others suggested her uncompromising stance might be the very reason Zuma had assigned her to this tough portfolio.
But Sisulu’s disregard for the authority of Parliament – she refused several requests to appear before the defence committee, saying its members were not qualified to discuss classified aspects of the defence budget – will have to change if she is to gain the support of MPs.