South Africa’s millionaire politicians need salary increases to ‘cope with cost of living’, says parliament

Parliament has issued a public statement in which it aims to ‘clarify’ and ‘put into correct context’ the latest salary increases for members of parliament and other public office bearers in South Africa.

“Certain media reports have implied that the 3% salary increase for public office bearers approved by the President, earlier this month, on the recommendation of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, was tone-deaf. Nothing could be further from the truth,” it said.

It added that public office bearers like ministers last had salary increases in April 2019 when the commission recommended a 2.8 % increase.

“Because of the prevailing and difficult economic conditions, it was important that the remuneration of the public office bearers be adjusted to enable them to cope with the rising costs of living.

“The average consumer inflation rate has been on the increase, and for 2021, it was 4.5%, which is higher than the averages recorded for 2020 (3.3%) and 2019 (4.1%) – resulting in the buying power of the disposable income becoming lower.”

Total package

Another important factor that parliament said must be highlighted – a matter that is sometimes misinterpreted, it said – is the fact that the salaries of MPs are published as a total remuneration package and not cost-plus benefits.

“For example, if an ordinary MP earns say R1.1 million per annum, that includes the basic salary, a flexible portion, a travel allowance, a political office bearers’ allowance, and a contribution to the pension fund.

“Other deductions that will be taken from the salary include tax (Pay as You Earn), medical aid, party contributions, village accommodation and others authorised by the individual MP like a bond or car instalment.”

While it is understandable that the remuneration of public representatives would often spark a public debate given the transparency with which they are processed, constant scrutiny over their work as well as the socio-economic challenges faced by the country, it must be appreciated that they do not determine their own remuneration, parliament said.

“An independent commission is charged with such responsibility; it recommends any decision for the approval of the president before being gazetted. Unlike in other countries, members of parliament do not play any role in the process of determining either their salaries or annual increments.”

Good pay for good work 

It is also equally vital that public representatives are fairly remunerated consistent with their scale of responsibilities under the Constitution, parliament said.

“For instance, there is a total of 341 parliamentarians (minus ministers, deputy ministers and the deputy president) in the National Assembly who are responsible for oversight over state institutions constituted of hundreds of thousands of employees, including high-ranking executives.

“Compared with salaries of public service employees, parliamentarians earn at a scale equal to junior-level management.”

Fair pay 

“In analysing and scrutinising the remuneration of public representatives, we must also benchmark it against those of their counterparts globally, particularly in similar developing countries,” parliament said.

“A desktop survey suggests that South African public representatives do not earn anywhere higher than those of countries with similar GDP and population, amongst other considerations.”

It is also worth noting that, as an additional safeguard, unlike in several other countries, South African members of parliament are barred from undertaking any other remunerative responsibilities outside of their parliamentary work. Should they take up such work, they are obligated to declare it for scrutiny in terms of the Ethics Code, parliament said.

“In subscribing to a checks and balances system that excludes them from having a say in the determination of their remuneration, parliamentarians demonstrated appreciation that public service is not about self-enrichment or luxury.

“In this regard, public representatives would be the last to insist on anything beyond an independently determined just, fair and sustainable remuneration commensurate with their obligations under the Constitution and the law.”

Salary changes

President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the salaries for a number of top government and parliamentary positions in a gazette published last week (14 June).

The president announced the salaries will take effect retroactively from 1 April 2021, with remuneration structured as follows:

  • A basic salary component equal to 60% of the total package, which constitutes the pensionable salary;
  • An amount of R120,000 per annum as per section 8(1)(d) of the Income Tax Act;
  • An employer’s pension benefit contribution equal to 22.5% of pensionable salary.
  • A flexible portion for the remaining amount of the total remuneration.

Based on these latest salaries, deputy president David Mabuza will now receive R2,910,234 – a close to R100,000 increase from his total remuneration package last year.

By comparison, the country’s ministers and deputy ministers will now receive R2,473,682 and R2,037,129 respectively.

Position Total remuneration
Deputy President R2 910 234
Minister R2 473 682
Deputy Minister R2 037 129

Members of parliament and other senior legislative figures also received increases, with the speaker of the national assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula set to take home over R2.9 million. The leader of the opposition John Steenhuisen has been given a pay bump to R1.64 million.

Position Total remuneration
Speaker: National Assembly R2 910 234
Chairperson: NCOP R2 910 234
Deputy Speaker: National Assembly R2 037 129
Deputy Chairperson: NCOP R2 037 129
House Chairperson R1 938 963
Chief Whip: Majority Party R1 648 481
Chief Whip: NCOP R1 648 481
Parliamentary Counsellor: President R1 648 481
Parliamentary Counsellor: Deputy President R1 648 481
Leader of Opposition R1 648 481
Chairperson of a Committee R1 540 628
Deputy Chief Whip: Majority Party R1 386 619
Chief Whip: Largest Minority Party R1 386 619
Leader of a Minority Party R1 386 619
Whip R1 286 713
Member: National Assembly R1 172 071
Permanent Delegate: NCOP R1 172 071

Read: Ramaphosa approves pay increases for government officials – here’s what they now earn

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South Africa’s millionaire politicians need salary increases to ‘cope with cost of living’, says parliament