sling the BLING

THE recent buying of luxury cars by Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, costing taxpayers millions of rands, has caused a political stink.

Nyanda spent more thanR2million on two BMWs 750i. Motshekga bought a Range Rover Sport and a BMW 730D for a total cost of R1,7million.

The average minister's yearly remuneration package is R1612053.

A 70percent allowance for each car suggests a minister should purchase a vehicle costing not more than R1128437.

Nyanda's two vehicles cost R1091050 each and his department chose a lease agreement that will see it paying 30percent less than the actual purchase price.

Panyaza Lusufi, Motshekga's spokesperson, pointed out that she qualified for a R2,4million loan for the two cars and had saved taxpayers more than R500000.

The Democratic Alliance has argued that though the two ministers were within their rights to buy the cars, it was not prudent to spend so much of taxpayers' money when the country is in a recession.

"The ministerial handbook does allow it, but we are saying the government should send the right message," said the DA's LindiweMazibuko.

The Congress of the People and the United Democratic Movement have called on the government to institute the fleet system, in terms of which the government negotiates a deal for ministers with a particular car manufacturer.

This system was followed by the apartheid-era National Party.

The DA has since moved to introduce austerity measures for members of the executive committee in Western Cape, where it is in power. The party proposes that the car allowance percentage be reduced from 70 to 50percent.

If the national government were to follow suit it would mean that on average a minister would not buy a car costing more than R806026,50.

With this amount a minister can still purchase a luxury car ranging from a top of the range Lexus to a BMW 7 series.

Here are some of the cars that a minister can acquire with such an allowance:

l Mercedes-Benz E500 for R745000. The E-Class is ranked among the safest cars in the segment. It boasts safety features such as a drowsiness detection system, the proximity control system, which is capable of performing automatic emergency braking when there is acute danger of a collision.

The car comes with most of the safety features that are standard in luxury cars.

In addition there is a camera system that checks the distance between the vehicle and the one in front. This helps to diminish traffic accidents and reduce the severity of crashes.

l BMW 730 D for R777500. The car comes with all the safety features standard in luxury cars as well as the rear view camera system like the one in Nyanda's 750i.

l BMW X5 4,8i for R739000. The vehicle comes with a roll-over system that senses when the car is about to capsize and enhances safety features such as tightening the seatbelts. It also has cornering lights that enhances safety when taking sharp curves.

l Audi Q7 4.2 Quattro triptonic at R769000. The car's safety features include a camera system as well as a lane change assist mechanism.

l Lexus Rx 400 XE for R687400. The car also comes with the camera system to enhance the driver's vision around the car.

All these cars come standard with good sound and entertainment systems.

Obviously, acquiring any of these cars would save millions of taxpayers' money.

There is also the option of signing a fleet deal with one car manufacturer. This would lead to saving because the government would be buying the vehicles in bulk.

This debate about which cars the ministers should buy is at the core of what kind of society South Africa has become. Our politicians are part of the culture of conspicuous consumption that has enveloped our country. Some call it "the bling culture".

As ANC Youth League president Julius Malema once explained, part of this "bling culture" includes the drinking of dated liquor (read single malt whisky) and driving German luxury cars and displaying them in the township".

Our ministers, as leaders we look up to, cannot afford to be part of this "bling culture" in a country that continues to be ravaged by high levels of poverty.

Even more so when that "bling culture" has to be funded by the impoverished taxpayer.