The police has spent R1.344 billion on protecting “very important people” (VIP) in the last five years.
In addition, the police say president presumptive Jacob Zuma is costing the taxpayer R998 815.89 a month in VIP protection (VIPP).
The figures come from two questions answered in writing by police minister Nathi Mthetwa.
The answers, tabled in Parliament yesterday note that the police spent R223 147 927 on VIPP in the 2004/5 financial year. The next year it ballooned to R238 839 551 before dropping slightly to R234 431 502 in 2006/7. In 2007/8 it spiked to R273 244 861 and for the period April 2008 to end January 2009 clocked in at R279 429 484, making for a total of R1 249 093 325.
Spending on VIPP vehicles followed a similar trajectory. R27 396 439 was disbursed in the 2004/5 financial year. The next year it was down to R22 444 576 and then, in 2006/7 fell to R11 959 001 before bottoming at R10 071 989 in FY2007/8. This year, however, it has already returned to R23 296 561 – and the figure is only for the period April 2008 to January 2009. This amounted to a further R95 168 566, taking the total to R1 344 261 891.
Although Democratic Alliance MP RJ King asked Mthetwa how much credible intelligence has been received in recent years that any “protectees” have faced a sufficiently serious threat to warrant significant protection, no direct answer was received.
Rather it appears that in terms of a “Risk Management System” the threat facing provincial ministers (MECs) is automatically defined as low, the danger facing provincial premiers and national Cabinet ministers is “medium” and the hazard facing the president, his deputy and former heads of state is deemed high.
“… however from time to time the levels of security need to be increased.”
Mthetwa adds all “threats identified or verified by the relevant Intelligence Services are regarded as sufficient for SAPS [South African Police Service] to act appropriately.”
VIPP consists of permanently assigned bodyguards and drivers as well as a convoy of state vehicles. These multiple vehicle convoys, derisively called “blue light gangs”, have in recent years built up a poor reputation for arrogance and dangerous driving, even when the “protectee” is not in the vehicle.
By contrast, in the period before 1994, when the country was in a state of civil war and guerrillas were operating on the national territory, Cabinet ministers were assigned one state vehicle with one driver/bodyguard. There were no escorts or high-speed convoys.
As far as can be publicly ascertained, no “protectee” was attacked in the period for which the figures were provided. While this begs the question whether the VIPP was required, it cannot be said for certain they would not have faced criminal or political violence in a country that has enough of both.
At the risk of editorialising, it may be time to ask whether in an open and democratic society it should automatically be deemed that certain politicians face a specific risk.
Democratic Alliance police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler-Barnard says protecting African National Congress president Zuma “has cost taxpayers in the region of R50 million since his dismissal as Deputy President in June 2005,” which she believes is “a grossly inappropriate and excessive degree of expenditure on a single individual.”
The amount – almost R1 million per month – is spent on close as well as static protection (guarding his homes), overtime, vehicle and telephone costs.
“This is an extraordinary waste of taxpayers` money, especially given that the SAPS is so chronically underfunded in many essential areas. Indeed, many millions of South Africans are besieged by crime, even while the president of the ANC – who is not, it should be noted, a public office-bearer – receives this kind of largesse.”
In an open letter to Mthetwa, published this morning, she adds this “appears to be an excessive level of spending on any one individual” and enquires “why this is deemed necessary, and what specific threats could warrant such extensive protection.”
She adds it “is also particularly alarming to note … that expenditure on the VIP Protection Service has increased considerably in recent years, even while other areas of the Police Service continue to suffer from severe backlogs and resource shortfalls.
“Expenditure on the VIP Protection Service has increased at the national level by 72% over the last five years, while there have been massive increases in spending on VIP services in provinces such as Mpumalanga (up 194% over five years), Limpopo (96%), North West (145%) and Free State (222%). These kind of spending increases clearly need justification.”
“It is bitterly ironic that even while the South African taxpayer foots the bill for Zuma`s astounding protection costs, his blue light cavalcades have become notorious for their dangerous antics on South African roads, placing in danger the lives of ordinary citizens. The mind boggles at what would be spent on his security should he become President.”