Sunday, October 25, 2009

The police bosses' R7,1 mil moral failing

The total amount paid on luxury items - from cars, to hotels, to mansions - between the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, the Deputy Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, and the National Police Commissioner, Bheki Cele, is R7.1 million.

The ANC's approach to public money is defined by a myth: it believes that if something is allowed, it should be indulged.

A full breakdown of this amount follows below this statement.

These three people, responsible for providing principled leadership to our police service, are failing fundamentally in their public duty. Their egos have become the deciding factor in almost any decision made concerning the perks and privileges their positions afford them, and their excuses are weak and unconvincing.

The consequences of these two things is that the perception is starting to take root, that their interest in not in their core duty but, rather, the size of the next benefit their job allows for.

They are supported by an executive that, increasingly, talks austerity but, when it comes to hard action, obfuscates and defends exorbitant and unnecessary spending:
  • On the one hand, the Cabinet states it is establishing a task team to investigate where government can cut back on wasteful expenditure. That was three months ago. On the other hand, and in the interim, Cabinet ignores the DA's recommendation that it put a moratorium on the purchase of new vehicles, and watches on as its own members splurge on everything from "off road car kits" to stays in the Table Bay Hotel's presidential suite, to the tune of some R45 million.
  • On the one hand, President Zuma tells the country "Since the implementation of our programme will take place in the face of the economic downturn, we will have to act prudently - no wastage, no rollovers of funds - every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully. We must cut our cloth according to our size"; on the other hand the Deputy President defends the purchase of new luxury ministerial vehicles before parliament, because "we must not elevate poverty into virtue" and argues that the purchases were designed "to ensure that the wheels of the economy continue to turn".
  • On the one hand, the Finance Minister tells us "Money is not the problem ... it is how we spend the money"; on the other hand, Cabinet defends the Minister of Police's stay in the Durban Hilton at a cost of some R570 000, because "The [ministerial] handbook states they can stay in any hotel".
The ANC's approach to public money is defined by a myth: it believes that if something is allowed, it should be indulged. This disjuncture between principle and procedure suggests a collective moral failing and an inability to properly distinguish between the right thing to do, and the right to do anything its can.

It is also a practically flawed argument. Just because the handbook allows for a certain percentage to be spent on a car, or for a minister to stay in a hotel, does not mean the Minister is obliged to max-out on that percentage or splurge on a five star hotel. Defending those sorts of decisions is akin to someone, on discovering they have failed to save for a pension arguing that, because it was their salary that arrived in their bank account, they were entitled to blow it all on the first day of every month. It is an argument which promotes what is allowed, above what it is wise to allow, and is the last resort of guilty.

It is unfortunate that this sort of attitude has become typified by the Department of Police, whose leadership seems determined to abuse every privilege available to it. The DA has asked a series of parliamentary questions about a number of other expenses the Department might have over indulged on (listed in the table below). It is our hope that the answer to them will demonstrate prudence as opposed to extravagance and be motivated by public interest rather than personal gain.

For a breakdown of the luxury spending click here.

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