Saturday, December 11, 2010

Zuma’s spending spree on State cars

The Irish Government is not the only government under the spotlight for spending on State cars.

A widespread public backlash broke out in South Africa late last year when the government of President Jacob Zuma, elected in April 2009 with an overwhelming majority, spent over €3 million on luxury cars for the use of ministers and senior officials.

Zuma (68), incidentally, was a member of the South African Communist Party from 1963 until 1990, is the father of 20 children and has been married five times.  He was charged an acquitted of rape in 2005 and fought a long battle over allegations of racketeering and corruption.  An 18-seat Boeing 737-7ED VIP business jet is one of four jets at his disposal.

No rules were broken by this outrageous spending spree. The South African ministerial handbook provides for the purchase of up to 220 luxury State cars at a total cost of over €24 million, each car equivalent in value to 70% of the user’s annual salary. A locally commissioned study indicated that this level of expenditure would be sufficient to provide 5,500 houses, 25 schools or pay the annual salaries of 1,500 nurses.

While the global economic recession prompted a reappraisal of State spending before the spending spree, the South African government has failed to curtail extravagant public spending on personal luxuries. The elite of Africa are imbued with a culture of unremitting self-entitlement while the masses are deprived of basic services such as access to water, sewage, electricity and refuse removal. South African ministers argue that top-end luxury vehicles are necessary to meet public expectations and to conduct their mandate.

The Irish Government has spent over €42 million on bilateral aid to South Africa since 2005. Why does the Irish Government not use its diplomatic might, agility and vitality to exert its influence on the governments of aid-recipient countries to curtail self-enrichment and corruption and to foster more sympathy and support to alleviate the financial hardship of the masses they govern?

Irish diplomatic success could, in the case of South Africa, be reflected in the context of the political will of the authorities delivering the values and aspiration of Nelson Mandela with respect to greed, corruption and selfishness.

Real change would be recognised in amendments to their ministerial handbook that outlaws public spending on personal luxuries, improved efficiency in the provision of basic services and the consequential avoidance of a climate of instability and unrest. That would be an authentic demonstration that the poor, hungry and marginalised of Africa are not forgotten and it would imbue the quality and effectiveness of the Irish Aid programme with outcomes that are unambiguous, defensible and sustainable.

Failure to make progress would mean that the Irish Aid programme is really propping up government self-indulgent extravagance in Africa at enormous cost to a dwindling cohort of very hard-pressed Irish taxpayers - with no long-term benefits ever achieved.

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