The inauguration ceremony for South Africa’s next president - which the ruling African National Congress has already decided will be Jacob Zuma - is going to be a grand affair with almost twice as many foreign heads of state and dignitaries in attendance than at his previous inauguration in 2009.
Last time, provision was made for 20 heads of state to attend, with the government bearing the cost of luxury accommodation, travel and all the associated diplomatic and protocol services. For the upcoming event, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation plans on having about 40 heads of state in South Africa.
The doubling of the number of foreign presidents and prime ministers expected to attend explained the increase in the cost, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said yesterday.
Democratic Alliance finance spokesperson Tim Harris criticised this "extravagance" at a time when "ordinary South Africans are struggling … and the government is battling to get a rising debt burden under control".
The government has budgeted about R120m for the presidential inauguration. A provision of R80m was made in the department’s 2014-15 budget and R67.7m was allocated for state functions in the Department of Public Works’ budget. The latter was a 150% rise over the 2013-14 allocation of R27m‚ mainly due to the inauguration.
According to Mr Harris‚ the previous presidential inaugurations of former president Thabo Mbeki and Mr Zuma were estimated to have cost R75m. The cost of this year’s inauguration is a 60% increase.
"The increase in expenditure from the 2009 presidential inauguration provides for an increase in the number of foreign dignitaries‚ heads of state and governments expected to attend the 2014 presidential inauguration‚ which also coincides with the commemorative programme of government to mark the 20 years of South Africa’s democracy‚" Mr Gordhan said in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Mr Harris.
The additional costs related mainly to accommodation‚ travel and subsistence arrangements as well as all the logistical arrangements such as diplomatic and protocol services.
In reply to another question by Mr Harris on whether the Treasury would take action against ministers and provincial MECs who failed to adhere to the belt-tightening measures he announced during his speech on the medium-term budget policy statement in October last year‚ Mr Gordhan said that the Treasury did not have the power to act against these people.
According to the constitution‚ members of the Cabinet were individually and collectively accountable to Parliament and MECs to provincial legislatures.
The Treasury instruction issued in December on cost containment measures related to the engagement of consultants‚ travel and subsistence‚ and catering and events and the Treasury would monitor its implementation.
Questioned by Mr Harris as to whether the measures allowed for the expenditure of R1.3m on a luxury vehicle — purchased by North West Premier Thandi Modise — Mr Gordhan said the rules governing the purchase of motor vehicles for executive authorities were contained in the ministerial handbook‚ which was administered by the Department of Public Service and Administration.
"The measures announced by the Treasury therefore do not include the purchasing of motor vehicles for executive authorities.
"Processes are currently under way at the Department of Public Service and Administration to amend the ministerial handbook to address limitations regarding the purchases of vehicles‚" Mr Gordhan said.
Mr Harris noted‚ however‚ that South Africans had been waiting for this update for more than four years and warned that "until this promise is fulfilled they will not be convinced that national government leaders are personally committed to belt-tightening".