President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

The DA has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to act quickly to rein in the runaway budget deficit by cutting executive spending and reducing the size of the Cabinet.

"If the president is serious about helping National Treasury rein in the runaway budget deficit, he will have to cut executive spending by finalising a stricter and more frugal ministerial handbook, as well as cutting the overall size of the Cabinet," Desiree van der Walt, the DA’s spokeswoman on public administration, said on Sunday.

In his inaugural state of the nation address in February, Ramaphosa said he would reduce the size of the Cabinet and collapse and streamline government departments.

He said later the decision to review the configuration of national departments would take several months after a "thorough analysis of the suitability and the costs of the existing configuration".

There are 35 ministers whose remuneration‚ perks and housing needs are paid for by taxpayers. Ministers are paid more than R2m a year while their deputies get about R1.9m.

Former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s administrations comprised 28 ministers each.

This number increased under Jacob Zuma.

Van der Walt said that if, for example, Ramaphosa used the same cabinet size as Mbeki, he would save R52.5m in 2018-19 and R163.7m over the medium term. The total of R236m spent on acquiring 39 ministerial houses could have been spent on building nearly 2,000 low-cost houses, she said.

Van der Walt said that since assuming office, Ramaphosa had promised to tackle government excesses including downsizing his Cabinet.

"It is clear, however, from some parliamentary replies we have received that he has not taken any steps to address some of the opulent costs that come with his Cabinet.

"The bloated Cabinet of former president Jacob Zuma continues to live on through the current administration.

"This Cabinet is by far one of the biggest in the world, with 35 ministers, far bigger than that of the US at 15 ministers, Kenya with 18 ministers and the UK with 21 ministers."

She said the national ministerial handbook, which regulates the benefits and perks of public office bearers, was highly lenient in some respects.

"Ministers have therefore used the handbook as an excuse for exorbitant expenditure, which cannot be justified, given the levels of inequality we live with. The handbook was set for an update but has not been updated since 2007, while millions are wasted. The Department of Public Service and Administration already stated in 2014 that they are reviewing the handbook, with little to show."