South Africa’s millionaire cabinet ministers – who get to enjoy luxury lives at taxpayers’ expense – have been granted a boost in the number of personal staff they are allowed to have around them, giving them access to ‘food aides’, drivers and personal portfolio coordinators.
Quiet changes to the ministerial handbook earlier this year increased the number of personal staff to 15 people, the Sunday Times reports – up from 11 when the handbook was last changed in 2019 in cost-cutting measures.
The roles of the aides are largely administrative and involve assisting the ministers when hosting meetings and dealing with official business, but insiders speaking to the paper criticised some of the positions as being excessive and unnecessary.
The changes are set to cost taxpayers R87 million a year.
President Cyril Ramaphosa signed off on the changes to the handbook in May, which also included a R100,000 bump in the limit for ministers to purchase luxury cars. Ministers and their deputies can now spend up to R800,000 for their vehicles.
As per the handbook, the Department of Public Works pays for ministers’ utilities – so taxpayers foot the bill for all these privileges and luxuries.
The presidency told the Sunday Times that, given the public outrage over the changes, the ministerial handbook would again be reviewed.
“The public outrage is appreciated considering the current social economic context and difficulties many South Africans face. As a government that listens as well as a president that is attuned to issues and concerns raised by South Africans, the ministerial handbook will be reviewed,” it said.
The backlash follows reports last week that South Africa’s ministers and deputy ministers – who draw a salary of between R2 million and R2.5 million a year – do not have to pay for water and electricity thanks to the same changes.
The 2022 revision removed the R5,000 cap on municipal utilities covered by the government. Previously, ministers were only exempt from paying their bills so long as they remained below this amount.
Meanwhile, as the rest of the country – including schools and hospitals – are subject to hours of load shedding, cabinet ministers’ official residences are exempt as their private residences in Pretoria are on the same grid as the union buildings, which cannot be powered down due to its status as a national key point.
Eskom implemented stage 2 load shedding o