Politicians should curb extravagance

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

A woman contacted me recently over a weekend.

She had a problem with a hospital, but apologised “for invading my privacy”.

It wasn’t just good manners – she really felt uncomfortable about contacting me after hours.

I have always taken calls whenever I am available.

There are no set hours for a conscientious public representative.

After all, when people need your help urgently, you are the most needed at that time and should be available.

Elected officials forgo privacy in other areas as well.

Parliamentarians have to declare their interests every year, although actual amounts are kept confidential.

Their private lives can also come under media scrutiny.

Many top politicians have toppled due to sexual scandals, but this varies from country to country.

Americans are less forgiving than the French, who typically overlook the mistresses and love children of their leaders.

Jacob Zuma has suffered much embarrassment as cartoonists take aim at his many wives and dalliances with other women.

A leader’s love life may not affect his governing capabilities, but people seem to want to know.

I think that it is relevant insofar as leaders should be role models and practice what they preach.

This is why there was outrage when Zuma had sex without a condom and claimed that a shower would prevent HIV/Aids.

Lavish spending also gets public attention, as when Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane spent R10 000 on a handbag at the exclusive Luminance store.

“Shoes and bags are part of my therapy,” she reportedly said.

When accused of insensitivity in flaunting her wealth she defended her rights as a feminine consumer, and denied that this made her less conscious of widespread poverty.

“Judge me by what I do not what I wear” was the headline of her rebuttal article.

I feel a bit sorry for Mokonyane in this instance. So long as it is her own money, she can choose to spend it however she wants.

But it wasn’t clever to do this in a luxury store that received a controversial R34 million loan from the National Empowerment Fund.

The real problem is her spendthrift use of public money on unnecessary extravagance.

She splurged R30 000 on one day with her government credit card when she was overseas in Milan, Italy.

This included R15 841 at the Don Juan Ristorante Argentina, known for its succulent steaks, and R2586 at the Salvatorre Ferragamo leather goods boutique.

She is also driven around in a swanky Mercedes ML63 AMG that cost R1.25 million.

This is at the top level in terms of the Ministerial Handbook, which allows for a vehicle costing 70% of annual salary.

By contrast, members of the executive council in DA-ruled Western Cape are limited to an official vehicle that is no more than 40% of salary.

This is in terms of a revised “no frills” ministerial handbook.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille uses a 2010 Mercedes C300 that cost R500 000, less than half the price of Mokonyane’s car.

This is an admirable example. Politicians should know that they are always under scrutiny, and never waste public money on their own comforts.