LAST WEEK, in a report which went virtually unnoticed amid the current political hullabaloo, Mpumalanga Social Development MEC Clifford Mkasi announced plans to cut down on hosting big events in order to spend more money on non-profit organisations (NPOs) in the province.

“These big unnecessary events take a lot of money from us while that money can be put to better use by giving them to the NPOs,” said Mkasi. “I prefer to have more personal interaction with the people than to stage huge events. That way we’ll save a lot of money and we can give [it] to the NPOs who are doing a great job for our society,” reported the African Eye News Agency.

Contrast this with yesterday’s lead story under the headline “State spent R5 billion on partying” which described government departments’ “obscene” spending in the past year on entertainment, food and travel.

This spending comes despite instructions from the Treasury and calls from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan that departments cut back on unnecessary spending.

Details of spending revealed in annual reports now tabled include that 34 departments spent a total of R194 million on catering and R31.7m on entertainment between them; spending described by the opposition DA as “nothing short of obscene”, particularly at a time when many people struggle to feed their families.

It is hard to believe that instructions to save money, and do more with less in the corridors of power, are being disrespected to such an extent. How is it possible that officials who authorise such spending are not heeding their own government’s call to cut consumption and redirect funds to infrastructure and maintenance, for example? One has to ask how much better R5bn could have been spent at a time when SA needs housing, schools, clinics, textbooks, roads and better social services.

Mkasi got it right that NPOs could – and would – benefit from money being used wastefully on parties, luxury hotel stays and flights around the country.