|UPDATE: This factsheet was updated to reflect the most recent data from 2018.|
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.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs get much of the attention, with their role as parliament’s nap prefects. It started when one of their MPs accused international relations minister Maite Nkoana Mashabane of sleeping during an April 2016 debate on the impeachment of then-president Jacob Zuma.
A month later, EFF MPs again made headlines after parliament’s security ejected them from the chamber and their leader, Julius Malema, vowed never to let Zuma talk in parliament in peace again.
MPs are paid – handsomely – to represent the public in parliament, out of money the government gets from taxpayers.
In this factsheet Africa Check looks at how much South Africa’s MPs earn and what they actually do. We also try to identify the hardest-working MPs, using the available data.
What do MPs earn?
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). Those positions are currently held by Thandi Modise and Amos Masondo. Both are members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
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 – or R200,136 a month.
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. This works out to R164,816 a month. Lechesa Tsenoli is the deputy speaker.
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 councils to the president and deputy president – who earn R1,600,467 a year. The leader of the opposition, currently Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance, is also in this group. Their monthly salary works out at R133,372.
Committee chairs. MPs who chair parliamentary committees earn R1,405,015 a year, or R121,251 per month.
Minority party leaders. Leaders of minority parties, such as Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party and Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement, earn R1,309,563 a year or R109,130 a month.
Regular MPs. The lowest salary an MP in the national assembly or NCOP earns is R1,106,940 a year, or R92,245 a month.
What benefits do MPs receive?
We asked parliament what benefits MPs receive other than the salaries listed in the government gazette.
MPs also get “facilities”, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo told Africa Check. These are the costs for:
- 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.”
MPs get annual salary increases based on recommendations by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers and benchmarked on forecasts of average annual inflation. The commission recommended a 4% salary increase for MPs for the 2018/19 financial year.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa decided not to follow the commission’s recommendations, announcing a freeze on increases for 2018/19. A December 2018 government gazette confirms that MPs will get the same salaries they received in 2017/18.
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.
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 more than 50 different committees.
In the 2017/18 financial year, more than 1,600 committee meetings were held and parliament passed 18 bills. National Assembly MPs asked 5,719 questions of the president and cabinet ministers, while NCOP MPs asked 542.
Africa Check asked parliament how many plenaries, joint sittings and committee meetings were held in the 2018 calendar year, but we are yet to receive a reply. Our analysis of the parliamentary programme shows at least 118 plenaries and 14 joint sittings were scheduled for 2018. Parliament’s annual report for the 2017/18 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 1,600 committee meetings were held in 2017/18. 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.
“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.”
Who are the hardest-working MPs?
Africa Check used the PMG’s publicly available attendance data to find the “hardest-working MPs” – according to how many committee meetings they attended in 2018.
The highest number of committee meetings attended by an MP was 108. The lowest number was one. The MP who attended the most meetings is a member of the ruling party.
South Africa’s hardest-working MPs
(based on committee-meeting attendance in 2018)
|Name||Political party||Number of committee meetings attended|
Source: People’s Assembly
Additional research by Cayley Clifford
|CORRECTION: A previous version of this factsheet said that Sylvia Lucas was the current house chairperson and earned R1,882,488 a year. Lucas is currently the deputy chairperson of the NCOP and she earns R1,977,795 a year. We’ve updated the factsheet to reflect the correct information. We apologise for the error.|
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