Despite Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza banning lavish spending two months after taking office in 2009, the legislature spent a whopping R10.8 million on catering alone between April 2013 and March this year.
The expense, recorded in the 2013/14 Annual Report, was more than double the initial catering budget of R4,5 million for the 2013/14 financial year.
“The Mpumalanga Legislature might as well adopt the popular restaurant slogan ‘Come Hungry’ as their own. While many Mpumalanga residents continue to struggle to make ends meet, often battling to provide food for their families, the Mpumalanga provincial legislature has had no shortage of the good life,” said provincial Democratic Alliance leader Anthony Benadie on Thursday.
Benadie said the exorbitant catering expense excludes the money spent on the State of the Province Address, taking Legislature to the People or any Sectorial Parliaments, which have their own budgeted amounts.
“The Mpumalanga Legislature must be the only employer where politicians and employees receive free meals, sometimes up to three meals a day, depending on the programme. Ironically, the vast majority of members and employees can actually afford to pay for their meals.
“While the ANC repeatedly claims to be the ‘party of the poor’ the behaviour of their decision makers in government prove otherwise. While slashing the free meals will undoubtedly receive great opposition from ANC members, its continuation will be a slap in the face of fellow citizens who bear the brunt of the tight economic circumstances,” said Benadie.
Benadie said the DA has been requesting a review of the provincial legislature’s extravagances for years, urging previous speakers to overhaul the system so that members pay for their own meals.
“One can only determine that our concerns were indeed valid when taking into consideration the most recent figures spent on catering. Newly appointed Speaker, Ms Blessing Thandi Shongwe, recently announced that the catering budget must decrease by more than R5 million come March 2015. Unfortunately, as is becoming common amongst high ranking officials, no sustainable plan has been tabled to ensure that this in fact does take place,” Benadie said.
Attempts to get comment from the provincial legislature were unsuccessful as the communication office failed to return follow-up calls.
Media liaison officer Thulile Nkambule earlier promised African Eye News Service that she would look at questions sent to legislature spokeswoman Zamagambu Memela-Gamede, who’s phone was not receiving calls.