Abuse of funds: talk or action?

Will Minister Gordhan’s ploy to stop officials from misspending taxpayers’ monies go beyond elections?

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Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan’s planned clampdown on the abuse of government funds, as announced in his mid-term budget policy statement, surely produced the same reaction among most of us: “It’s about time!” After constant reports of state officials misusing taxpayers’ hard-earned money, Gordhan’s announcements are indeed welcome. But that only applies to people who will not be affected by these changes; I can’t talk for those whose credit cards will be cancelled or those who had unlimited supplies of Nando’s.

A high-ranking official such as a premier spending more than R53 000 on junk food is a clear sign that many politicians have no respect for public funds. This calls for action to be taken, especially when Gauteng road users are being forced to pay e-tolls. The government is so hellbent on implementing this system that President Jacob Zuma has even resorted to insulting African countries to make a point!

Government takes action
There was a huge outcry a few years ago when ministers splashed out on luxury cars and hotel bookings, but the ruling party did not show any interest in the matter. Well, as I have been saying for the past few weeks, election periods always come with surprises. I hope these changes by the minister will bear some fruit and that the ‘fat cats’ will not only be forced to tighten their belts now, but after the elections as well. After the polls, things tend to return to normal, as everyone knows.

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I trust that Gordhan has a plan in which these changes will be monitored closely to ensure that offenders are properly dealt with. It would be useless if we were to expect these same people to monitor themselves.

Perfect timing
The news from the minister came at a time when the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced the launch of the Fetsa Tlala programme. This multi-million rand project to assist small-scale producers has the potential to become yet another money-making scheme for officials and their friends, posing as consultants, and requires monitoring.
The use of consultants is one of the biggest ways to waste public funds – many programmes are implemented using them, while the department pays salaries to people hired for the job.

Read: Medium Term Budget Policy Statement

Although in some instances the practice is necessary, spending R102 billion on consultants while paying millions of rands in wages makes no sense. It seems equally nonsensical that some NGOs wanted to be paid for something that the department was capable of doing itself. The Fetsa Tlala programme has apparently been successfully launched in the Northern Cape.