King Goodwill Zwelithini and the royal household have emerged as the main casualties of the belt-tightening measures applied by the KwaZulu-Natal government, announced during the presentation of the provincial budget on Friday.
Refurbishments of the eight royal palaces and the acquisition of a vehicle for one of the queens will be put on ice until possibly the mid-term adjustment later in the year, and this too is likely to depend on whether the province’s financial position improves or not.
Senior KwaZulu-Natal treasury official Nelly Shezi, alongside provincial head Simiso Magagula, told a media briefing at the Royal Show Grounds in Pietermaritzburg on Friday that treasury had moved to arrest runaway expenditure and ensure value for money in all areas of government expenditure, including checking whether items presented for funding could be canned until an improvement of the province’s finances for the 2020/21 financial year.
She added that there had been no clear indication on the spending plans of the royal household, especially the repairs on the palaces.
“We need to do a proper and thorough analysis on the state of palaces before determining how much needs to be spent on them,” said Shezi.
Her comment came just three days after the Zulu king had delivered the keynote address to mark the official opening of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature on Tuesday.
In past gatherings marking the opening of the legislature, the king challenged members of the provincial legislature to inspect the state of royal palaces.
Part of the budget adjustments included halting the construction of a government and legislature precinct, which she said was a bitter pill to swallow as landlords continue milking the provincial government on rent.
Finance MEC Ravi Pillay insisted that curbing “unnecessary yet desirable items” over the past years had put KwaZulu-Natal in a better financial position, one where the province was able to record a surplus, enabling for better use of excess funds.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Velenkosini Hlabisa cautioned against targeting the royal household.
“Austerity measures are welcomed, given the existing economic climate, but there should be no move to single out the king and the royal household when there are other areas that need attention,” said Hlabisa.
Speaking to City Press, provincial DA leader Zwakele Mncwango said they would apply a wait-and-see approach to whether royal palaces needed refurbishing, insisting that the royal household had been abused in the past.
“I have sent a transversal question to government, asking each government what they were doing in relation to the royal household and how much they were paying for such activity. This will provide a clear picture of what is really happening,” said Mncwango.
ANC chief whip Super Zuma said there was no cause for alarm over the possible halting of refurbishments of royal palaces.
“Let us remember that what we had today was a budget proposal; this process still has to go through the finance committee, where all items will be subject to scrutiny before adoption [next month].
“In addition to this, there is the office of the premier, under which royal household matters fall,” said Zuma.
For the 2020/21 financial year, R138 billion has been set aside for public spending, with education and health once more emerging as the big spenders and taking more than 80% of the budget.
The premier’s office has been allocated R800 million in this financial year.
The KwaZulu-Natal government has in the past years spent millions on the king and the royal household, prompting calls for more efficient ways to operate the household without the use of public funds.
– City Press correspondent
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