Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ministers’ R92m housing bill

Ministers’ R92m housing bill
December 29 2011 at 09:02am

Two security guards sit in deck chairs outside this house in Pretoria, which has allegedly been bought by the government to house a new cabinet minister. Picture: Jennifer Bruce
Ministers and deputy ministers live in state-owned mansions barricaded with extra security that costs more than many people’s homes.
President Jacob Zuma’s expanded executive has cost you R92 million in new houses - mainly in the Waterkloof area - in Pretoria for 15 politicians - and that’s just for their second collection of state-funded homes.

The national Department of Public Works spent R71.795m buying the 15 properties, including attorneys’ fees.

That’s an average of nearly R4.8m a house… but that wasn’t good enough for your politicians.

So the department spent another R11.4m on renovations and furnishings, and another R8.5m on extra security. The total bill came to R91 644 540.48.

And it’s not finished yet; some spending on furnishings and renovations is continuing.

Another 19 houses in Cape Town cost another R116m, excluding extra work or furnishings.

When The Star asked cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi if the cabinet had discussed any security threat to the ministers and deputy ministers that explained the level of expenditure, he referred all queries to Public Works.

The department had not responded to earlier requests for comment by late on Wednesday.

The details of the Pretoria expenditure are in the reply by the minister of public works to questions in the National Assembly by DA MP John Steenhuisen.

“It’s little wonder they’re so out of touch with the needs of ordinary South Africans when they’re living in such a cosseted situation,” Steenhuisen commented to The Star.

“It’s a huge form of largesse.”

Last week The Star reported on the purchase in March of one of the 15 houses in Auriga Street, Waterkloof Ridge, for R6.3m.

The department had refused - for “security reasons” - to tell The Star which member of the executive would occupy the house, but the minister’s reply identifies the occupant as Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Dina Pule.

The houses for Pule and Deputy Minister of Higher Education Hlengiwe Mkhize were the most expensive of the 15, at R6.3m each, plus lawyers’ fees.

Pule’s job involves monitoring government delivery and assessing related policy. The Presidency’s policy document for this monitoring lists one of the “non-negotiable principles” for improving government performance as the need to “recognise that there will always be limited funding and resources, and yet be willing to commit to doing more with less and doing it on time”.

The cheapest house cost R2.4m. It hasn’t been assigned to anyone.

The department paid above the Tshwane metro’s official valuations for every property, in some cases well above. One cost three-and-a-half times the market-value estimate.

So far, 11 of the houses have been assigned - three to ministers and eight to deputy ministers. None of the properties were bought through open tender but through a “negotiated procedure”, the minister said in its reply.

As they are the second state-provided properties for the incumbents, they are supposed to pay rent on these: R905 a month each for three of the properties and R745 a month each for the other eight.

The spending flies in the face of the lack of funds for service delivery. For example, of the 203 state schools in the Joburg central area, nearly three-quarters get less than R500 000 a year each in state funding and only nine get more than R1m.

The cost of those 15 houses could have added R450 000 to the budgets of every one of those 203 Joburg schools. What was spent on those 15 houses could have run Gauteng’s Heidelberg Hospital for a year or Mamelodi Hospital for six months.

The extra security alone on the house for the deputy minister of police cost enough to pay a police lieutenant in the Presidential Protection Services for 31 months or a Limpopo police station commander for two years.

The curtains for the deputy minister of mining’s pad cost as much as the pay for a minimum-wage coal miner working underground for about four years. - The Star

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