|UPDATE: This factsheet was updated on 13 March 2020.|
You’d be forgiven for wondering how much work gets done in South Africa’s parliament, given the media attention its members get for either brawling or sleeping on the job.
In this factsheet Africa Check looks at how much South Africa's members of parliament earn and what they actually do.
What do MPs earn?
Members of parliament (MPs) get annual salary increases based on recommendations by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers.
For the 2019/2020 financial year, the commission recommended that public office bearers who earn an annual salary above R1.5 million receive a 3% increase while those earning below that receive a 4% increase.
For the second year in a row, Ramaphosa decided not to follow the commission’s recommendations.
He recently announced that higher-ranking parliamentarians would not receive a salary increase for the 2019/20 financial year. Lower-ranking MPs however, such as ordinary members of the national assembly, received small increases.
National Assembly speaker and National Council of Provinces chairs. The highest-paid MPs are the speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
A government gazette shows that both MPs will earn R2,825,470 in the 2019/20 financial year.
Their salaries are the same as the deputy president's, an indication of their seniority. They also earn more than cabinet ministers, who get R2,401,633 a year.
National Assembly deputy speaker. The next highest-paid MP is the National Assembly’s deputy speaker, who earns R1,977,795 a year – the same as a deputy cabinet minister.
House chair. The house chairperson is next on the pay scale, earning R1,882,488 a year.
Senior MPs. After the house chair comes a group of senior MPs – the chief whip of the majority party, the chief whip of the NCOP, and the parliamentary council president and deputy president – who earn R1,600,467 a year. The leader of the opposition is also in this group.
Committee chairs. MPs who chair parliamentary committees earn R1,495,755 a year. This is an increase of 6.4% from the 2018/19 financial year.
Minority party leaders. Leaders of minority parties earn R1,346,232 a year. This is an increase of 2.8% from the 2018/19 financial year.
Regular MPs. The lowest salary an MP in the national assembly or NCOP earns is R1,137,933 a year. This is also an increase of 2.8% from the 2018/19 financial year.
What benefits do MPs receive?
South Africa’s MPs also receive “facilities”, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo told Africa Check. These include:
- 88 single journeys a year (by air, train, bus or car)
- Daily commuting
- Travel to and from airports
- Parking at airports
- Travel for their dependants
- Tools of trade, including a cellphone, tablet and laptop
- Equipment and furniture for their offices
- Personal accident insurance
- Accommodation in parliamentary villages (three complexes in Cape Town that house MPs when parliament is in session)
- Transport from the villages to parliament
The facilities are provided to “enable members to perform their duties as elected public representatives”, Mothapo said. But the details of what’s included in these facilities are not available. “They are published in a handbook distributed to members of the national assembly and permanent delegates of the NCOP.”
How do MPs earn their salaries?
The job of MPs is, in short, to make laws, enable public involvement by “providing a national forum for public consideration of issues”, and oversee the work of the executive, such as cabinet ministers.
Ministers are accountable, collectively and individually, to parliament. They have to “provide parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control”, according to the constitution.
An MP can be either a member of the National Assembly or NCOP. The NCOP's members make sure the national government takes the province’s interests into account, according to parliament’s website.
MPs’ work is divided into parliamentary sessions and constituency periods. In constituency periods MPs must be available to the people they represent, reporting back on what is happening in parliament and the like.
An Africa Check analysis of the 2019 parliamentary programme reveals that 40% of the year’s working days were allocated to constituency duties.
When they are in parliament MPs attend:
- Plenary groups. All the members of a house, either the National Assembly or the NCOP, meet in one group. They debate recommendations made by committees and take final decisions.
- Joint sittings. Members of both the National Assembly and NCOP meet in one group for proceedings such as the president’s State of the Nation Address and the finance minister’s budget presentation.
- Committee meetings. There are 40 different committees.
In the 2018/19 financial year, more than 1,507 committee meetings were held and parliament passed 18 bills. National Assembly MPs asked 4,861 questions of the president and cabinet ministers, while NCOP MPs asked 713.
Our analysis of the parliamentary programme shows at least 71 plenaries and 7 joint sittings were scheduled for 2019. Parliament’s annual report for the 2018/19 financial year lists the 18 bills that were passed.
Committees - parliament's ‘engine room’
The committees are described as the “engine room” of parliament because they are where much of the lawmaking and oversight work is done. The committees report regularly to the house, where their recommendations are debated and final decisions taken.
The different types of committees include:
- Portfolio committees. One for each government department, made up of members of the National Assembly.
- Select committees. These oversee the work of government departments, but are made up of NCOP permanent members. Each committee covers more than one national department.
- Internal committees. These deal with matters affecting the running of parliament.
- Ad hoc committees. These are appointed when a specific task must be done.
- Joint committees. These are appointed by both the National Assembly and NCOP.
More than 1,507 committee meetings were held in 2018/19. But moves have been made to set rules for attendance.
In a May 2016 report, the National Assembly’s rules committee issued a wide-ranging review of the chamber’s rules, underway since 2012. It says one purpose of the review is to “provide minimum standards for attendance of members in the business or activities of parliament”.
Some of the revised rules are that:
- All political parties must keep attendance records for their members and submit them to the speaker for publication.
- An MP who is a full member of a committee but absent, without party approval, from three or more consecutive meetings may be fined R1,000 for every day absent.
- The committee secretary must submit a report to the speaker every three months on all members who have been absent from three or more consecutive meetings without approval.
The National Assembly rules committee adopted the new rules soon after the report came out.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), an information service NGO, has for a long time asked parliament for plenary and committee attendance records, according to Rashaad Alli, their projects and monitor manager.
The Parliamentary Oversight Authority agreed to make this information available on parliament’s website in late 2013, he said. “But this never materialised. So we started collating our own information from the beginning of the fifth parliament in June 2014.”
The PMG found that the data it collected in many cases contradicted poor public perceptions of the work ethic of MPs. Many of South Africa’s MPs worked diligently, said Alli.
The group has created an attendance calculator for its People’s Assembly website using the data it collected on MPs of the three main parties.
“Attendance at meetings is part of an MP's job and should not be taken lightly,” said Alli.
But he added: “It is important to note that there are many reasons why MPs can be absent. They can be ill, busy with party work, studying, attending workshops/conferences, travelling, media work and meeting clashes. This last reason is particularly applicable for smaller parties who sit on multiple committees either as full or alternate members.”
Additional research by Cayley Clifford