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Government spokesperson Phumla Williams. File picture: MASI LOSI.
Government spokesperson Phumla Williams. File picture: MASI LOSI.

The government has defended paying utility bills for ministers and their deputies after a backlash from civil society and hard-pressed consumers, saying the perk is one of several for “being a member of the executive”.

City Press reported on Sunday that President Cyril Ramaphosa in April scrapped a R5,000 limit on the amount that cabinet members could claim for water and power — the same month that electricity tariffs were increased by an average of 10% — fully exempting ministers and their deputies from paying for municipal services at their official residences.

The amendment to the ministerial handbook comes months after Ramaphosa announced a salary increase of 3% for politicians and other government officials, backdated to April 2021 and applicable to all categories of public office bearers, including ministers and their deputies, premiers, MECs, MPs, MPLs, traditional leaders and judges. 

Cabinet ministers earn R2.4m per year, while their deputies are paid R2m.

“Ministers and deputy ministers pay for the usage of electricity and water at their private residences. The department of public works & infrastructure pays for the usage of water and electricity of state-owned buildings, such as official residences,” government spokesperson Phumla Williams said in a statement on Tuesday

“Government urges consumers to continue to pay for the services they receive so that municipalities are able to collect revenue, meet their debt obligations, and provide quality services to communities.”

The department of public works, as stipulated in the ministerial handbook that guidelines on expenses for members of the executive, “is responsible for the costs associated with the provision of water and electricity to any state-owned residence”, Williams said.

The department, she said, was “bound” by government prescripts to accommodate members of the executive.

“The department of public service & administration sets out the provisions in the ministerial handbook. These provisions are part of the package that comes with being a member of the executive as they are living in state-owned houses in service of the country,” Williams added.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the labour federation, a key ally of the governing ANC, was shocked by reports that taxpayers are footing the bill for water and electricity used by cabinet members.

“This is shameful and scandalous considering that millions of poor people in SA are struggling with the escalating cost of living. It is extremely insensitive for this administration to cushion off the members of the executive, while imposing extreme sacrifices on the workers and the unemployed,” Pamla said.

SA cabinet members were among the highest paid in the world and they lead “one of the most unequal countries with some of the poorest people in the world More than 16-million South Africans struggle to have three meals a day and 22-million of them are on social welfare”.

“These revelations will only serve to harden attitudes of workers during this year’s round of wage negotiations. The federation is calling for the scrapping of these vulgar and tone-deaf perks for cabinet members and for an overhaul of the ministerial handbook that is out of touch with the reality of many South Africans,” Pamla added.

Williams also clarified that the only facilities exempt from national load-shedding are the Union Buildings in Pretoria and the houses of parliament in Cape Town, along with mines that supply coal to Eskom.

“People in the proximity of these facilities, may also be exempt from load-shedding. Hospitals are required by law to have their own backup power, however, due to the continued load-shedding; government is working on a plan to exempt certain hospitals in the country,” Williams said.

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