EC PARTIES’ BONUS MILLIONS: DAILY DISPATCH

POLITICAL parties in the Eastern Cape are in line for a cool R27-million Christmas bonus if MPLS vote in favour of the proposal at the next sitting of the provincial legislature in December.

If accepted, the Christmas bonus will be divvied up among the five parties that make up the Eastern Cape legislature, with the ANC getting the lion’s share.

This was revealed in the R1.6-billion Adjustments Appropriation Bill tabled in the legislature in Bhisho last week.

Opposition parties say most of the money will be funnelled into the ANC’S centenary extravaganza, set to kick off in January – but the ruling party has vehemently denied this. The R27m, if accepted, will be deposited into political parties’ caucus, constituency and political coffers just before the year-long ANC junket kicks off.

The government is already picking up a hefty tab for 60 heads of state set to descend on South Africa for the ANC’S lavish birthday bash.

A further R100m has been budgeted by the party for celebrations throughout the anniversary year.

Eastern Cape political parties have already shared R94m, paid out in proportion to the seats they hold.

DA finance spokesman Bobby Stevenson said the proposed R27m would be the first additional payment since the Eastern Cape Political Party Fund Bill came into effect in 2010.

The legislature failed to spend its full R310m budget during the 2010/2011 financial year.

Treasury spokeswoman Kershia Singh said the provincial parliament asked for all of the unspent R42m to be rolled over to this year’s budget, but the provincial treasury had approved only R27m. Singh said the legislature budgets for administration, parliamentary services, facilities for members and political parties, but it must be agreed to and follow a specific structure.

The legislature secretary, Pumelele Ndamase, said the legislature saved R20m on staff and an undisclosed amount on an enterprise revenue planning project that never got off the ground.

“It is not a secret that the legislative underspent by R42m during the 2010/2011 fiscal and we have been given permission to reallocate these funds,” he said. “We are in the process of restructuring our organogram and did not want to hire staff before it would be completed next year. I thought the media would congratulate us on this,” he said.

Ndamase said the Public Finance Management Act allowed the speaker, Fikile Xasa, to act independently of the provincial treasury.

He said the money would replenish political parties’ reserve funds, which had been depleted in the campaign for the May 2011 local government elections. “Those parties not wanting it can write to me and say ‘no thank you’ and we will withdraw it,” he said.

But opposition parties called the extra funding an abuse of the public purse. “The province has its priorities wrong. We need to be fixing our schools, fixing our hospitals and roads before we allocate additional funds to political parties,” Stevenson said.

“There is no doubt that this additional, unexpected and unusual allocation is because of the ANC centenary celebration. It is nothing more than creative accounting to fund their celebrations through the party-political fund,” he said.

However, ANC chief whip in the legislature and MPL Humphrey Maxegwana said it was “strange” that opposition parties were complaining as they would receive a share.

“Not a single opposition MPL stood up and complained during the last sitting. They are just politicking now,” he said.

Maxegwana said the opposition parties were taking the highroad knowing they would get the money in the end anyway.

Asked what the party would do with the money, the chief whip said Calata House, the ANC’S provincial headquarters in King William’s Town, would decide.

Maxegwana said a law was passed allowing party funding to be secured from the legislative’s budget.

“The province’s infrastructure is not correct, we know this, but the money will be used to better the situation. I am not saying it will not be used for the centenary but the ultimate decision lies with the Calata House,” he said.

Opposition parties control 19 seats and the ANC 44, meaning passage of the proposal is assured.

A National Treasury report said last week the Eastern Cape had spent the least of all nine provinces of its budget for infrastructure in the period from April to September 2011.

UDM’S provincial legislature leader Max Mhlati called the windfall a “Christmas bonus” for the ruling party.

“This is unusual … why do we need more funding. Elections are over … there is no more campaigning,” he said. “The money must be moved to the departments that need it to better service delivery.”

COPE MPL Nkosinathi Kuluta said: “It is an abuse of public funds. We have already received sufficient money for our party’s coffers.”

However, the ANC’S Eastern Cape spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane said: “It is not for the centenary. That is a distortion of the facts and we will never let the money be used for that. — michaelk@dispatch.co.za