public works & infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
public works & infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Cabinet ministers face spending cuts to the refurbishment of their official residences, according to interim austerity measures ordered by public works & infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille.

De Lille, who is the only opposition party minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet, failed to deliver her entire budget vote address as she ran out of time. But her written remarks show she has issued a notice to all executive members to curb their spending in the interim while formal austerity guidelines are being developed. 

She refers to the government's Prestige unit, responsible for maintenance of buildings such as the Union Buildings and ministerial residences. 

“My message with regards to the Prestige function is simple. The executive is here to serve the people and lead by example. We will avoid exorbitant expenditure on accommodation, state functions, etc. The budget must be directed towards the implementation of services benefiting the majority of the people,” her speech says.

 A total of R2.6bn has been set aside for building maintenance and repairs for the entire department.

The interim austerity measures rule out procurement of new furniture for members of the executive. The department will repair, upholster and maintain all existing furniture.

Adhoc or emergency refurbishment of offices and residences which are not in the maintenance plan will not be allowed, “except under exceptional circumstances that are approved by the Executive Authority”.

“While we apply these austerity measures in the Prestige portfolio the department will focus on building internal capacity to ensure that there is minimum outsourcing of maintenance of these residences.”

Members of the executive must also manage their water and electricity use “to minimum and acceptable levels”. She said  high consumption bills issued by the City of Tshwane and the City of Cape Town were being investigated.

The property section was engaged with the City of Cape Town on “overbilling amounting to R20m”.

South Africans were “sick and tired of fraud and corruption in the public service”, De Lille told parliament

She said transparency was the most important deterrent to corruption and that she had instructed department officials to put measures in place for public scrutiny of the supply chain management processes.

“There will be no secrecy in the award of tenders. From now on, members of the public will be able to observe the evaluation and adjudication of our bidding processes,” De Lille said.  Gauteng is the only province which currently has an open tender system. 

She also detailed timelines of the lifestyle audits announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018. 

“I have instructed my department that such audits must be completed between August 2019 and June 2020, and that I want my lifestyle to be audited first,” De Lille said. 

Patricia Kopane, the DA’s spokesperson on public works & infrastructure, said that the DA would ensure that De Lille succeeded “for the benefit of the country”.

Kopane cited a response to a DA parliamentary question by De Lille’s predecessor, Thulas Nxesi, that the department had spent more than R45m on the maintenance of ministerial houses in Pretoria and Cape Town. 

“This opulence indicates the skewed priorities in your department and is an insult to our poor and unemployed citizens. Why were these renovations done at such a great cost when the country’s economy is ailing? Someone must be held accountable,” Kopane said.