South Africans paying millions to give former ministers free business class flights

Former South African ministers and their partners have been getting free flights – totalling tens of millions of rand – at the expense of taxpayers.

According to a report by the Sunday Times, South African taxpayers have spent R45.3 million since 2014 on business class flights for these former political officials.

DA politician Leon Schreiber said in July 2020 that parliament had spent over R36 million on business class domestic flights for retired ministers, deputy ministers, and their spouses – including some who operated during apartheid.

“This information has not previously been made public, and the DA only obtained it after months of cajoling Parliament into complying with a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) request,” said Schreiber.

“Even more shocking is that the amount of money wasted on these retired cadres has been steadily increasing since 2013, when Parliament spent R3.8 million on flights for retired ministers, deputies, and their spouses,” he said.

“By 2018/2019 – the first year of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration – this figure had tripled to R9.3 million.”

Following an application from the DA, parliament has now revealed that about 200 former ministers and deputies, as well as their partners, benefited from R18 million worth of flights between April 2018 and March 2020.

“With over 10 million South Africans trapped in unemployment by the ANC – and millions more at risk of joblessness and poverty as a result of the ANC lockdown crisis – it is simply unconscionable that the people of South Africa should continue paying millions for the jet-setting lifestyles of the same retired cadres who unleashed such hardship on our country,” said Schreiber.

Taxpayer-funded business class flights

A recent report by Netwerk24 highlighted prominent figures who had benefitted from these taxpayer-funded flights, including a number of politicians linked to the controversial Gupta family.

For example, the report said that between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2020, parliament’s travel agency spent R685,657 on plane tickets for former Transport Minister Ben Martins and his wife.

Former Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson racked up a bill of R443,850, while former Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Mzwandile Masina booked plane tickets to the value of R299,818 for himself and his wife over this period.

Prominent beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded flights are listed below:

Former minister/deputy minister/presiding officer Amount spent
Des van Rooyen R224,991.18
Faith Muthambi R216,833.62
Barbara Hogan R215,291.59
Trevor Manuel R187,544.91
Dina Pule R125,919.53
Mcebisi Jonas R120,921.90
Siphiwe Nyanda R115,940.50
Roelof Meyer R98,559.46
Fikile Mbalula R71,297.90
Mosiuoa Lekota R61,854.00
Adriaan Vlok R59,447.32
Yunus Carrim R42,047.52
Marthinus van Schalkwyk R29,695.66
Tito Mboweni R28,436.18
Nomachule Gigaba R26,733.42
Malusi Gigaba R19,249.44
Maria Ramos R10,007.22

New rules take South Africans for fools – DA

The continuation of these free business class flights is despite the ministerial handbook being revised in 2019 to exclude this benefit for ex-ministers – since which nearly R10 million has reportedly been spent on these flights.

This means that flights paid for by the government for former ministers after the revision are technically against parliament’s rules.

Schreiber argued in December 2019 that these handbook changes were designed to “take the people of South Africa for fools”.

“In fact, the only positive changes to the handbook that are even worth mentioning is that the state will no longer pay for security upgrades at minsters’ private homes, and the cap (although still too high) of R700,000 on vehicles for our millionaire ministers,” said Schreiber.

“The rest of the handbook is effectively a whitewash that tries to disguise the obscene benefits that the ANC is still showering on its cadres.”

Plan to save the economy

This report comes weeks after Finance Minister Tito Mboweni gave his Medium Term Budget Speech in which he said the South African economy is predicted to decline by 7.8% this year.

To deal with this financial issue, and avoid a sovereign debt crisis, Mboweni presented a five-year plan which he said promotes economic growth and will bring South Africa’s debt under control.

According to Mboweni, this strategy will narrow the main budget primary deficit from an expected R266 billion in 2021/22, to R84 billion in 2023/24, with a surplus planned for 2025/26.

Key to this is targeting public sector funding, including a wage freeze for the next three years.

However, South Africa fell deeper into junk status on Friday.

Moody’s cut South Africa’s foreign and local currency ratings to Ba2, which is two levels below investment grade, while Fitch cut the nation’s ratings to three levels below investment grade.

“The key driver behind the rating downgrade to Ba2 is the further expected weakening in South Africa’s fiscal strength over the medium term,” said Moody’s in a statement.

“The pandemic has severely hit South Africa’s economic growth performance, and GDP is expected to remain below 2019 levels even in 2022,” said Fitch.

Now read: South Africa descends deeper into junk status

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South Africans paying millions to give former ministers free business class flights