News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Tuesday March 26th 2019

Zille battles bling culture

Steve Kretzmann

Putting her money where her mouth is, leader of the official opposition and Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, plans to create a budget-cutting ministerial handbook for her provincial cabinet.

Zille made the announcement during her budget vote for the Department of the Premier on Tuesday last week, in which she outlined how the provincial administration would achieve “clean, value-driven, efficient, effective and responsive government”.

The first step in the money-saving drive to ensure public money was spent “on services that benefit the people”, was to reduce the amount that MECs could spend on a car for their own transport. In a broadside to national cabinet ministers buying vehicles costing over R1million, she said: “We don’t believe that it (public money) should be spent on expensive cars, lavish parties and other luxuries that only benefit politicians.” She said the excuse by national ministers when criticised for spending enormous sums of money on their vehicles, that “the (ministerial) handbook says I can”, would not apply in her cabinet where the provincial handbook would hold sway.

She was backed up by Public Works and Transport MEC Robin Carlisle in his budget speech on Friday. Carlisle announced that MECs would only be allowed to spend a maximum of R510 000 on their cars.

Zille said the provincial handbook would put additional tighter controls over her own office budget, as well as those of each minister.
“It will reduce the scope for spending on items that have no direct bearing on service delivery such as parties, perks and functions.”

The issue of the blue light brigade, which she has previously stated she would like to ban in the province, was also addressed.
Regulations “pertaining to the use of blue lights on ministerial vehicles” would be introduced, she said, to ensure that they could only be used in emergency situations as to be determined by the handbook.
“We are also going to review the rules around Ministers’ hotel stays, flights and house alterations.”

Furthermore, she said her office would legislate against government employees doing business with government.

Pushing her administration’s “no frills” approach, and indirectly criticising the former ANC provincial office bearers, she said an assessment of the state of the provincial administration since the DA came into office last year revealed poor financial management across a number of departments, and inefficient use of public resources.

While the ANC in the province has sniped away at a number of issues in the provincial budget released at the beginning of the month, former Premier and leader of the ANC opposition in the province, Lynne Brown, agreed that Zille’s no frills approach was “a good thing”.
“It’s not something we can scoff at,” said Brown.
However, she questioned why the R545 million budget for the Office of the Premier had been increased by 12 percent while the Department of Community Safety, for instance, had its budget increased by only four percent, when the premier’s office did not directly deliver services to the people.

Brown said Zille’s programme to introduce a Corporate Services Centre which was allocated 3.5 percent of her budget, meant the Premier’s Office would become a lot more centralised, in keeping with Zille’s apparent lust for power. Criticism over centralisation was an issue Zille addressed in her speech, however, saying the creation of a Corporate Services Centre to Deliver human resource management, corporate assurance services, legal services and communication across all departments was “not centralisation”.
“We are setting up a streamlined, professional service centre that will assist every department in carrying out their functions and responsibilities.”
This was needed, she said, as a survey of all departments found there was one human resources officer for every eight officials, while the international benchmark was one to 85.

She said it was envisaged that R70m would be saved through efficiency gains.

Tags: Helen Zille, Lynne Brown, minsterial handbook

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