Johannesburg - As Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan preached the gospel of austerity and value for money, the very financial statements he spoke to on Wednesday highlighted the recently approved procurement of a car for Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to the tune of R1.5 million.
“Wasteful expenditure on expensive cars and overseas trips is unacceptable,” Gordhan said in addressing the National Assembly on Wednesday.
It was with these words that Gordhan moved the country one step forward with his announcement of steps to curb lavish living and exorbitant spending by government leaders.
Expensive luxury cars and unnecessary business class flights, protracted hotel stays, pricey dinners and booze-filled nights would be nipped in the bud in the spirit of “cutting or minimising costs and stopping abuse”.
However, the medium-term budget policy statement tabled in Parliament revealed that the National Treasury had approved the spending of R1.5m on a new vehicle for Radebe.
The revised budget statements for the Justice Department and its entities showed that R1.5m had been shifted to the ministry from an agency under its wing to pay for the new car for Radebe.
At his press briefing on Thursday following the cabinet’s fortnightly meeting the day before, Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Collins Chabane failed to answer a question about whether he recognised the irony in such an exorbitant sum having been approved for Radebe’s new car when Gordhan had preached austerity in Parliament.
Radebe’s spokesman, Mthunzi Mhaga, said on Thursday the transfer of the funds for the car was an “administrative action done by officials within the department”.
According to the ministerial handbook, ministers qualified for a vehicle worth 70 percent of their annual package, he said. In Radebe’s case, this was R1.4m.
“It is impossible that the minister can buy a vehicle worth R1.5m because he does not qualify and therefore that is wrong and inaccurate. He has never at any given point even considered a vehicle of that price. The minister’s car in Cape Town must be returned to where it was leased from soon, at the end of October,” he said.
Mhaga added that “in view of the October 23 cabinet cost- cutting measures, including standardised vehicle purchases, the officials in the department will suspend the purchase of the vehicle pending determination by the cabinet of the purchase method for ministers”.
Gordhan’s spokesman, Jabulani Sikhakhane, said he was in meetings all day and could not comment.
Gordhan said in Parliament that, “as government, we acknowledge that we too must provide value for money”.
“Although most government spending is effectively managed, there are many opportunities to cut or minimise costs and stop abuse. To achieve value for money in these initiatives, we need improvements right across government in financial management. This applies equally to provinces and municipalities, where we have to see much better accountability and discipline in the stewardship of public funds.”
Chabane, reporting to the media on decisions taken at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, moved to reinforce the moral ground claimed by Gordhan.
He said the long-awaited ministerial handbook, which guided the executive in their spending habits, would be completed soon. The handbook has been under review for about four years.
Chabane hailed President Jacob Zuma as having “led from the front”.
“The president is the one who directed us to look and measure what are the things we can do to cut, and then direct it. The president is leading from the front. It did take a bit of time with consultations and technical issues, but we are at a stage where all those matters will be resolved with a legally binding document guiding us.”