Naledi Pandor. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Naledi Pandor. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The government is forging ahead with plans to trim the size of its diplomatic missions as it battles to cut costs and return SA to financial health.

Without providing timelines, international relations minister Naledi Pandor said in parliament last week that her department is undertaking a process of rationalisation of its foreign missions.  

“Staff reductions have been introduced as part of this process, the department has established a task team on the ‘Repositioning of SA’s Global Presence’. The task team has produced a draft report with a set of recommendations. The draft is being considered,” Pandor said.

An analysis by the Treasury found that SA’s cost-of-living allowances for its diplomatic staff were 60% higher than those paid to US staff and 40%-50% higher than those for UN staff, who also pay their own accommodation, unlike SA staff.

SA’s foreign missions, which fall under the department of international relations & co-operation, play a crucial role in maintaining diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world. The work of the department is primarily realised through the 125 diplomatic missions in 108 countries in which SA has representation. The missions are tasked with facilitating international trade, investment and tourism; and strengthening political and social ties with host countries. Furthermore, they articulate SA’s position in global and regional multilateral forums such as the UN and the AU.

According to budget documents tabled in parliament in February, as the department largely relies on its personnel to perform its functions, an estimated 45.6% (R9.8bn) of its total  expenditure over the medium term is earmarked for compensation of employees. This includes the foreign service wage bill, allowances payable to transferred staff in terms of the foreign service dispensation policy, membership fees payable to international organisations, and the development and maintenance of infrastructure in foreign missions.

Spending on compensation of employees is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.9%, from R2.9bn in 2019/2020 to R3.4bn in 2022/2023. Total expenditure is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 4%, from R6.5bn in 2019/2020 to R7.3bn in 2022/2023.

The Treasury said that over the medium term the department will also seek to reduce its rental portfolio and operational costs associated with the rental of more than 1,000 properties abroad and ensure the longevity of its 127 state‐owned properties by conducting essential maintenance, repairs and renovations.

The department will focus on developing vacant state‐owned land in Luanda (Angola), New Delhi (India) and Gaborone (Botswana); and renovating state-owned properties in Mbabane (Eswatini), The Hague (Netherlands), Windhoek and Walvis Bay (Namibia), and Brasilia (Brazil). This is expected to lead to a decrease in expenditure on leases.

The department also plans to assess the condition of its properties in Europe that are more than 50 years old, particularly in London (the UK), Paris (France), Vienna (Austria), Rome (Italy), Brussels (Belgium), Madrid (Spain) and Copenhagen (Denmark) to inform decisions on their future holding and use.

“For these capital investment objectives, R1.2bn over the medium term has been set aside in the office accommodation subprogramme in the administration programme,” the Treasury document stated.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za