A meeting between the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and the Department of Public Works (DPW) in late August 2018, revealed some shocking examples of wasteful government spending – millions of Rands being spent on an elite group of government officials.
At the meeting, SCOPA questioned the DPW about the purchase of four ministerial homes with a total value of R26-million. This also included entertainment area upgrades, more specifically, the development of braai areas at the homes of three ministers totalling half a million Rand. During questioning, it was revealed that there is no price cap set when buying ministerial homes, and in instances where the houses do not have entertainment facilities, the DPW had to cover the costs of building them.
Although the department received a lambasting, this was by no means the first time that this issue has arisen. In the 2017/2018 financial year, the DPW had spent R675,911 on building a braai area for one minister and R48 million on buying houses for six ministers at an average of R8 million per minister (Business Tech, 19 November 2017). And the list goes on.
Now, think about this for a second. Take all of this spending on lavish houses and entertainment areas (and don’t forget that these will incur other peripheral costs such as rates, taxes and maintenance), pile on R163.5 million that the country already spends on employing 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers (Politics, 20 May 2018), add a couple more millions of Rands for travel, entertainment and security, and all-in-all we are looking at an annual expenditure of billions of Rands on an elite few. Within the context of a fiscal framework that led government to “unavoidably” (Gigaba, 2018) increase VAT in order to mitigate a deficit of R50 billion, what the SCOPA hearings have once again unearthed, is that government is privileging a few at the expense of a much larger, far needier citizenry like victims of abuse for example.
South Africa, as we all well know by now, is a country besmirched by high rates of violence against women and children. Shelters for abused women and their children are, for many, an absolute life-line. This is particularly so as research by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa reveals that women who seek shelter from abuse have significant medical, legal and psychosocial support needs but very few resources if any to meet those needs.
The majority of shelters in South Africa are run by non-profit organisations and many rely heavily on government funding in order to render much needed, very effective crises intervention services to hundreds of thousands of women and their children every year. Yet, the funding they receive from government to deliver this service is minimal and often very restrictive.
Government funding to shelters is usually in the form of a per-bed or per-person contribution, which varies from about R50 to R67 per day (depending on the province) along with subsidies for the employing of some shelter staff such as social workers and housemothers – the latter of whom earn less than minimum wage. Some funding is also contributed to administrative and programmatic work. On occasion (again depending on the province) funding may also include a small contribution towards security expenses.
However, unlike ministers, government very rarely (almost never) furnishes shelters with houses. They are also rarely supported with funding to cover infrastructure and maintenance expenses. This, even though government policy – such as the Minimum Standards for Service Delivery in Victim Empowerment – requires that shelters provide “safe, healthy [and] well-maintained” physical living environments for those that they render services to.
Ensuring well-maintained physical living environments, much like erecting of braai areas, incur costs. Let’s take St. Anne’s Homes for Women and Children as an example. During the shelter’s last health and safety site inspection by the Department of Health, it was recommended that the shelter address a rising damp problem. A problem, that would end up costing a whooping R300,000 – about 15% of the shelter’s entire annual budget. The shelter could not afford to cover the costs and needed help.
When asked if the shelter had approached government for assistance, the Director of St. Anne’s, Joy Lange, replied: “We didn’t even ask to be honest. The reality is that we’ve been told time and time again that government does not fund infrastructure and maintenance costs. So we had to make a plan.”
The R300,000 – that the shelter was miraculously able to find funding for – covered the costs of water proofing, re-plastering and painting of the shelter’s two double-storey buildings. These buildings house a total of 26 women and children and a creche for children from both the shelter and the community. Had government funded these maintenance costs – this would have been a far more justified quality-of-life-assuring spend than that of investing in the social lives of ministers and their families and friends.
Since the State of the Nation Address we’ve been promised by the new South African leadership that government is committed to “lending a helping hand” to addressing South Africa’s most pressing social ills. If government is truly serious about this – it needs to put its money to where its mouth is.
The time has come for Government to stop subsidizing an already well-resourced and bloated cabinet. It needs to take responsibility for ensuring that organisations that tirelessly address the country’s “social ills” day-in and day-out – essentially doing so on government’s behalf – have adequate funding to not only meet the needs of their residents, but that they do so within caring, safe and well-maintained homes.
In a country inundated with crime and violence, we need far more investment in infrastructure like houses for abused women, and services, like those provided by St. Anne’s Homes and many other shelters across the country. To continue spending tax-payers money in wasteful ways is a slap in the face for each and every single one of us.
Claudia Lopes is the manager of the “Enhancing State Responsiveness to GBV: Paying the True Costs” project at the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF). Communications Consultant, Natasha Adonis has been assisting HBF to draw attention to the issues highlighted by the research, for the past 2 years. To keep abreast of project developments please follow the organisations on twitter via @boellza @NSM_ZA