Is VIP safety more vital than crime-fighting?
In a week in which Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene sent a strong message about belttightening, it is outrageous that funds that are sorely needed for detective work are being reallocated to the police’s VIP protection units.
This week, City Press reports how a whopping R30 million was given to the VIP unit in the budget adjustment. An incredible 5 374 officers are now dedicated to protecting the president, deputy presidents and other dignitaries. These include 74 national, 126 provincial and 81 foreign dignitaries, as well as 42 government installations and 90 VIP residences.
There are now more than triple the number of VIP guards protecting President Jacob Zuma, his Cabinet, provincial MECs, other identified VIPs, securing homes and government installations than there are soldiers guarding South Africa’s borders.
Nene this week flashed the red light and warned of tough economic times ahead. He also warned of cuts and austerity measures.
Cutting catering budgets, advertising spend and travel costs is commendable. It is brave and will earn Nene enemies among civil servants and narcissistic politicians who love to throw fancy parties and see their pictures in the media.
But he needs to taker the bigger step of telling his boss and colleagues that tough times call for tougher measures.
Firstly, Zuma has yet to justify why Cabinet needed to expand when all the signs were there that the fiscus was under enormous pressure.
This expanded Cabinet came with an added army of new deputy ministers who are also entitled to their own security.
Secondly, we have to ask whether all these ministers need this security. Is a real risk assessment undertaken or are ministers all entitled to protection purely because of their rank? Does the minister of arts and culture or the minister for women need all these bodyguards?
What is disturbing is that the money is being diverted from real needs, such as detective services, to an ego-stroking exercise.
Government must lead by example as the country confronts this prolonged economic crisis.
Cut the fat where it really hurts – the ego.