Public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

In a move that could see it clashing with labour unions, the government is considering implementing drastic spending cuts across the public service, including extending a pay freeze to all public servants.

Tabling the revised national ministerial handbook, which regulates the benefits and perks of public office bearers, public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu said the government acknowledges that it must lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to addressing the problem of SA’s finances.

 “We have taken the position of a freeze in our salaries and have also significantly reduced the benefits to the executive in terms of personnel in executive offices, travel, accommodation and security benefits, among others.

“We will be engaging with the minister of finance, the relevant ministers of all entities, the relevant national and provincial legislatures and judiciary which all derive budgets from the fiscus to extend similar restrictions to their members and employees,” he said.

Mchunu’s stance echoes similar sentiments expressed by finance minister Tito Mboweni when he tabled his medium-term budget policy statement in October 2019. In that statement, Mboweni announced a pay freeze for cabinet ministers, premiers and MECs.

The move could spark increased tensions with the unions, who already argue that the government is doing nothing to protect jobs and narrow the wage gap.

“If the government wants to reduce the fat then it should cut the exorbitant salaries and perks of the executive and management from cabinet to provincial cabinets, mayoral committees and the state-owned entities,” Cosatu said in October.

Federation spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said: “We don’t support any pay freeze for lowly paid workers. They can extend it to MPs and judges but not teachers, nurses and police officers.”

The public servants’ salary bill is one of the biggest threats to SA’s finances, and successful efforts in slashing it are vital for the country to stave off a ratings downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service, the only agency still ranking government debt on investment grade.

The revised ministerial handbook, aimed at curbing costs, slashes several ministerial benefits. It caps the procurement of official vehicles at R700,000 inclusive of VAT, maintenance plans and security extras. This is down from the R1.6m and R1.3m of what ministers, who earn about R2.4m per annum, and their deputies could spend before.

Furthermore, the handbook says members and their spouses travelling by air must do so in economy class for all official domestic travel as well as for international travel where the travel time is less than two hours. The state shall not bear any costs in respect of security upgrades done at private residences, and the rental of cellphones and the cost of official calls will be subject to an annual limit of R60,000.

Staff in support of a member’s office, excluding household aides, has been reduced from 13 to seven for a minister, from nine to five for a deputy minister, from 12 to seven for premiers, and from 12 to five for MECs. In terms of water and electricity payments, the state’s contribution will be limited to R5,000 a month per state-owned residence, Mchunu said. No contribution will be made in respect of private residences.

A member is permitted to occupy one state-owned residence free of charge, but where a member occupies a second state-owned residence, they are required to pay a rental and are personally responsible for the related tax implication.