From the Blue Train to the Metro Rail: How South African politicians are travelling in 2019

2019-09-02 04:45 - Marisa Crous
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Trump travels in Air Force One. Kim Jong Un almost exclusively travels in his own special train. And ex-Zim president Mugabe, even after retirement, still travels First Class on international trips and is driven around in a Mercedes limousine, reports News24.

For years, the South African president and ministers travelled around in Porsches and Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicles, all procured with taxpayers' money.

(Pay back the money!) 

WATCH: This is how much we were flying in 2018 

To be fair, for balance, we’ve also seen President Ramaphosa travel aboard the Metro Rail, plus he has also been spotted flying to Durban in economy class on a FlySafair flight.

In March of this year, The Sunday Times reported that the public service & administration minister, Ayanda Dlodlo outlined revisions to the ministerial perks handbook aimed at putting a firm stop to wasteful expenditure.

Like Porsches.

She stressed a lot of budget slashing, saying that cabinet ministers and their deputies would no longer be allowed to travel in luxury cars, or First Class (oh, the horror!) when travelling abroad.  

Last year, controversy rightly ensued when it came to light that that international spousal travel was being abused by ministers, ie the case of when former finance minister, Malusi Gigaba took his wife Norma along with him on a trip at a gargantuan cost of over R900 000 to the department.

READ: Moon-walking mini-breaks, 3D-printed room service and hyper-personalised spaces: Welcome to the Hotel of 2119   

That’s why Dlodlo stressed that international travel of spouses will, in future, have to be authorised by the president.

The guide of perks for ministers

In theory, the face of air, train and luxury car travel changed post-election with several changed being made to the guide of perks. For example, after elections in May of this year, the ministerial handbook stipend for vehicle allowance went down from 70% of ministers’ annual salaries to 25%.

Africa Check, a non-profit fact checking organisation to promote accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa, did a thorough deep-dive into the perks received by ministers and their deputies earlier this year. The elusive Ministerial Handbook, which tells ministers exactly which benefits and privileges they are entitled to has always been handled as classified. Until the Mail and Guardian published. 

Now, the updated, 2019 Guide for Members of the Executive is also available online, and it is fascinating stuff. 

Air travel – what ministers are allowed: 

Pre-2019 elections…

Cabinet members and their spouses may book first class tickets for official international journeys. They were also both entitled to 30 single business class flights per year within South Africa.

Observation: Business Class tickets tend to cost up to four times that of economy class tickets. #justsaying

READ: This might be the world's most comfortable Economy Class

And after…

“Members and their spouses (or an adult family member accompanying the Member in an official capacity) are entitled to travel for official purposes at the expense of the relevant Department provided that such cost of travel shall be on business class travel using the cheapest of three (3) quotations for the most cost effective and convenient route. 

“1.2 Dependent children of Members may accompany or join the Member on official domestic journeys if they cannot remain at home, at the expense of the relevant Department. 

“1.3 Members and their spouses may use VIP facilities at the relevant airports on domestic travel at the cost of the relevant Department.”

Plus, National Members and their spouses are jointly entitled to 30 (thirty) single domestic business class flight tickets per annum at the expense of the relevant Department. 

Train journeys – what ministers are allowed: 

Pre-2019 elections…

Minsters could travel by train for official purposes at the cost of the relevant Department, that included travel on the Blue Train – which now cost around R12-15k per person sharing for 2 nights. 

And after…

No more Blue Train, sorry guys. The 2019 guide states that “Members and their spouses may, where appropriate, travel by train for official purposes at the expense of the relevant department, provided that such travel is the most cost effective.”

Observation: Would be hard to prove that the Blue Train is more cost effective than the Metro Rail. 

South African Air Force – what ministers are allowed:

Pre-2019 elections…

Members may use South African Air Force aircrafts for official purposes at the cost of the relevant Department, when available under circumstances such as:

 “a. If there are time constraints in reaching the destination by vehicle or scheduled commercial flight due to other official duties;”

And after…

These conditions remained relatively the same in the 2019 guide. 

VIP lounges at airports – what ministers are allowed:

Pre-2019 elections…

“It is not a requirement that the VIP lounges at international airports be used; however, for security purposes, utilisation thereof is encouraged. Where appropriate and if preferred, first or business class lounges could be utilised.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs should be informed of the travelling Member’s preference well in advance in order to avoid any unnecessarily lounge bookings. 

And after…

These conditions remained relatively the same in the 2019 guide. 

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