Downsize looms for SA's bloated administration

19 February 2018 - 13:23
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Small Business Development Minister Ms Lindiwe Zulu.
Image: LINDA MTHOMBENI Small Business Development Minister Ms Lindiwe Zulu.

South Africa’s bloated cabinet and government departments are due for a makeover under the watch of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa hinted in his state of the nation address that excess fat would be trimmed to ensure the efficient use of public funds.

“It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources. We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration‚ number and size of national government departments‚" he said.

Speculation is rife over which cabinet positions will be affected and how departments could be merged to achieve this.

South Africa
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There are currently 35 cabinet ministers whose remuneration‚ perks and housing needs are funded by taxpayers. Cabinet ministers earn more than R2-million a year and their deputies earn about R1.9-million.

Former president Nelson Mandela’s administration consisted of 28 cabinet ministers. Thabo Mbeki also had 28 cabinet ministers. The number swelled under Jacob Zuma.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said during Monday’s debate in parliament on the state of the nation address that the country’s bloated government needed to be slashed.

“At 35 ministries‚ each with a deputy minister‚ ours is one of the most bloated governments in the world. We have already done the homework on this‚” he said. “It is entirely possible to cut our executive down to 15 ministries‚ with spending priorities that promote economic growth and job creation. This would save us around R4.7bn each year.

“Now I know this is difficult because there is patronage to dish out. But let me make this easier for you‚ Mr President‚" said Maimane.

"Why don’t you start with all the ministers who have proven themselves to be compromised? Show South Africa you are really serious about fighting corruption in your party and fire Bathabile Dlamini‚ Faith Muthambi‚ Mosebenzi Zwane‚ Malusi Gigaba‚ Des van Rooyen‚ David Mahlobo‚ Lynne Brown and Bongani Bongo‚” suggested Maimane.

Political analyst professor Susan Booysen said that presidents sometimes inflated the cabinet to increase loyalty.

“This is to keep people under control and patronage. Also to keep the legislation subjugated by senior members who sit in parliament to influence caucus. Executive members of parliament are in a way an instrument to keep the president in control‚” said Booysen.

Lindiwe Zulu’s loyalty to Zuma‚ for example‚ earned her a department - small business development - which did not achieve much transformation‚ said Booysen.

Booysen said that another way to reduce cabinet would be by mandating one minister to have more than one portfolio. Departments such as intelligence and security could be merged with communications.

“This needs to be a seamless transition which will not result in destruction‚ considering the party’s loss of support from the public‚” said Booysen.

There is speculation within the public service about the possible merging of the department of public service and administration and the department of planning‚ monitoring and evaluation. Water and sanitation could be merged with environmental affairs while sports could be combined with arts and culture‚ said one insider.