‘Hands off my gravy’
Later this year, the president is due for an aviation upgrade – a jet worth about R4 billion, as we reported last year. Officials say it will turn out to be a lesser beast, but given the injunction to tighten our belts, will our Number 1 cancel the jet? This week’s state of the nation address hit the emergency stop button on overseas flights for political leaders and pubic servants. Will it work? When then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene tried to put in place a ban on business-class travel last year, the pushback was severe from officials used to the high life.
It’s easy to say you are going to cut the gravy, but the proof of the pudding is a more difficult thing to find. We have one of the largest and most expensive bureaucracies in the world by population size, according to several comparisons. Try to touch it, or its perks, and the servants become less civil. Does the president have the political capital to see through the cuts he promised this week?
And do they go far enough? Can government employees be persuaded to forgo an increase, as many of their counterparts in the private and civil society sectors have done? And why not bite the bullet and make Pretoria the political capital? Government has been talking about doing this for 20 years now. Make like Nike and just do it.
While the president is taking brave decisions, the National Development Plan has anatomised the cost of our nine provinces and concluded that they should be centres of delivery and not of politics, because they have very little legislative power. Make the provinces administrative nodes and government will deal, in one fell swoop, with a growing problem: the premiers are becoming like chiefs with fiefdoms.
There were great anti-gravy sound bites in the state of the nation address, but turning that thinking into action will require a test of wills.