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Mr President, you should lead by example

By Clem Sunter

I have just read the following paragraph on News24: "Zuma also called on senior officers in business and government to freeze salary increases and bonuses for the next year as a 'strong commitment to build an equitable economy'."

I totally support the sentiment, but the president has to be the first in line by announcing what sacrifices he is personally going to make in order to get the show on the road. Genuine leadership is about action, not words. I wrote the following in an article after Warren Buffet called for the US government to get serious about shared sacrifice: "Coincidentally, I have been saying the same for some time that Barack Obama should be leading from the front by taking a pay cut himself. He should insist that members of Congress do the same."

For a start, I find it amazing how many members of government are allowed to travel business class on SAA. The other day, I remember seeing a prominent SACP individual in business class on his way to Cape Town when just on the other side of the curtain in economy sat the ambassador of one of those western capitalistic nations he so often derides. The ambassador told me that budgetary considerations now meant that all his diplomatic staff had to travel in the back of the plane.

As for hotels, the appalling stories in the press of senior government officials booking penthouse suites in the best hotels in London, New York and everywhere in South Africa make you wonder how such extravagance can be tolerated in these economic hard times. Sometimes the rooms are not even used. Ordinary folks now stay in budget hotels or bed and breakfasts to cut down the cost of travel.

Moreover, this belief that there is an endless stream of taxpayers' money swelling state coffers extends to flashy cars and bodyguards. Why is it that even at provincial and local government level senior employees are allowed to drive top-of-the-line models? I drive a 10-year-old Mini on trips around town and a Land Rover Discovery with the wheel on the back if I am going on holiday.

Blue light convoys and bodyguards are yet another example of total excess. Please give me one other country in the world where the leader of the ruling party's youth wing travels around in a convoy with a troop of bodyguards. Not even in Russia. Is South Africa so spectacularly dangerous that every single minister and every single senior party official has to be afforded the level of personal protection that they are given? I remember in Anglo American that the only person who had a bodyguard was Harry Oppenheimer, who successfully evaded him when he wanted to walk by himself to the barber in Commissioner Street.

We can widen the list of items to be trimmed to residences, conferences, overseas trips, the quality of whisky, you name it. The fact is that for a party that espouses left-wing ideology and calls for measures to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots, there is an Orwellian contradiction between the sacrifices being demanded of others and the sacrifices being made by the party itself. "Some people are more equal than others" is the perception held by many members of the public.

Nevertheless, I shall heed the President's call. I solemnly promise that I will not put up my fees for my speaking engagements in 2013. Now I want to know what you are going to do, Mr President.

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