SA: Ramaphosa forced to withdraw new perks for ministers after public outcry

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  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for the withdrawal of amendments to the ministerial handbook.
  • This was after the public outcry after it emerged that ministers and deputy ministers would not pay for electricity and water. 
  • The new amendments also allowed ministers to increase their staff components. 

“The president listened.”

This was the message from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya on Monday when he announced the withdrawal of a controversial amendment to the ministerial handbook that would see taxpayers fork out millions more in perks for ministers and deputy ministers.

Magwenya announced that Ramaphosa had scrapped the amendment to the ministerial handbook, which would see taxpayers fork out for water and electricity for ministers and deputy ministers – among other perks – following public outrage.

He said the president ordered the withdrawal of the Cabinet minute, which effected amendments to the ministerial handbook pending a review.

The handbook guides the perks given to members of the executive, which includes cars, a staff component and flights. “The intention behind the amendment was not a nefarious one.

The intention was to find some sort of balance between what ministers can afford to pay and what they are required to pay,” Magwenya said. In April, Ramaphosa agreed to give ministers and deputy ministers new perks, which included increased staff members at their official residences at the cost of R87 million to taxpayers.

READ | The Ministerial Handbook: Keeping ministers away from the common people

Magwenya denied that the ministerial handbook was amended in “secrecy” but said the president had listened to the public outcry.

“Where we are now, we are at a stage where the president has listened. The president appreciates the public outcry in the context of the economic and social pressures that a lot of South Africans are facing.

The president is heartened by the fact that we have an active citizenry,” Magwenya said. He said the motive behind the new perks given to ministers and deputies was not nefarious. Magwenya said:

We can take heart of the fact that the president has ordered the withdrawal of this minute that gave effect to the guide and ordered a review simply because he is attuned to the challenges that South Africans are faced with on a daily basis.

He said the matter was no longer up for debate and the president realised the need for the review of the perks given to ministers amid economic constraints plaguing the country.

“I suppose, with hindsight, the intention behind that was not a nefarious one. The intention was to try and find some sort of balance between what ministers can afford to pay verse some of the costs they have.”

The DA on Monday said if Ramaphosa did not scrap the ministerial handbook, it would march to the Bryntirion Estate, which houses ministers in Pretoria.

“It is a flagrant conflict of interest that Ramaphosa unilaterally and secretly decides on perks for himself and his Cabinet colleagues, even when these perks cost the people of this country so dearly. The DA has already laid a complaint with the Public Protector over the apparent fact that there is no law that provides for the existence of the ministerial handbook,” DA spokesperson Leon Schreiber said.

Magwenya described the DA’s action as “unnecessarily dramatic”.

Schreiber said Ramaphosa should scrap the handbook in its current form and apologise to South Africans. With the withdrawal of the amendment, the 2019 version of the ministerial handbook remains in place.

Magwenya would not give time frames for when the review would be completed. “Let’s ensure that the next version of the guide is aligned to not only the public expectations but to the realities that many South Africans face,” he said.