You would be forgiven for wondering how much work gets done by South Africa’s members of parliament, given the media attention they’ve received for brawling or sleeping on the job.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs are at the centre of much of the attention, having taken on the role of parliament’s nap prefects. This started when one of their MPs accused the minister of international relations, Maite Nkoana Mashabane, of falling asleep during a debate in April on whether President Jacob Zuma should be impeached.
But then, a month later, their MPs made headlines for brawling with parliamentary security and their leader, Julius Malema, vowed never to let Zuma talk in parliament in peace again.
MPs are paid – and quite handsomely at that – to represent the public in parliament from money paid to the government by taxpayers.
Africa Check looks at how much South Africa’s MPs earn, what they actually do and, from the available data and try to identify the hardest-working MPs from the available data.
What do MPs earn?
National assembly speaker & national council of provinces chairman. The highest-paid MPs are the speaker of the national assembly and the chairman of the national council of provinces (NCOP). Those positions are held, at present, by Baleka Mbete and Thandi Modise. Both are members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
As of 1 April 2015, both earned R2,716,798 a year, according to the government gazette. That averages out to R226,400 a month.
Their salaries are the same as the deputy president’s, an indication of how senior they are. They also earn more than cabinet ministers, who get R2,309,262 a year, or R192,439 a month.
National assembly deputy speaker. The next highest-paid MP is the deputy speaker of the national assembly, who earns R1,901,726 a year, which is the same as a deputy cabinet minister. That works out to R158,477 a month. At present, Lechesa Tsenoli is the deputy speaker.
House chairman. The house chairman comes next on the pay scale. This is currently Cedrick Frolick, who earns R1,765,935 a year.
Senior MPs. After him 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 R1,494,192 a year. The leader of the opposition, currently Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance, is also among this group. Their monthly average works out at R124,516.
Committee chairs. Members chairing parliamentary committees earn 1,358,399 per year, or R113,200 per month.
Minority party leaders. Leaders of minority parties, such as Julius Malema and Bantu Holomisa from the UDM, earn R1,222,606 a year or R101,885 a month.
Regular MPs. The lowest salary an MP in the national assembly or NCOP earns is R1,033,438 a year, or R86,120 a month.
What benefits do MPs receive?
Africa Check sent a number of emails and made multiple phone calls to the office of the parliamentary spokesperson to find out what benefits MPs receive over and above the annual remuneration listed in the government gazette, but parliament has yet to respond. (Note: We will update this factsheet when they do.)
A report by the People’s Assembly information website in 2014, listed a number of “perks” that MPs were entitled to, according to parliamentary spokesman, Estelle Randall. These included “86 single economy-class air journeys, accommodation in parliamentary villages, airport parking, reimbursed allowances for travel costs between airport and home and travel facilities for dependents, according to the policy for travel”. Parking in the parliamentary precinct, a fully equipped office in the precinct and an information and communications technology allowance were also included.
MPs received annual salary increases based on recommendations by the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, which were benchmarked on forecasts of average annual inflation. MPs used to receive annual increases of between 5 and 6% since 2012, but was not granted one for the 2015/2016 financial year.
How do MPs earn their salaries?
In short, the job of an MP is to make laws, facilitate 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 and have “to provide parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control”, according to the constitution.
MPs can either be a member of the national assembly or the national council of provinces (NCOP). The NCOP’s members ensure that the interests of the provinces are taken into account in the workings of national government, according to parliament’s website.
MPs’ work is divided into parliamentary sessions and constituency periods. An analysis by Africa Check of the information in the Composite Parliamentary Programme 2015 shows that the portion of days allocated for constituency work on the programme is close to 40% of the working year.
Constituency periods are set aside for MPs to 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, and then recommendations made by committees are debated by the house and final decisions taken.
- Joint sittings. Both the national assembly and NCOP meet in one group, such as when the president gives the State of the Nation Address, or the finance minister presents the budget.
- Committee meetings. There are more than 50 different committees.
In the 2014/2015 financial year, 126 plenaries were held between April 2014 and March 2015. The national assembly passed 290 house resolutions; parliament passed 12 bills; national assembly MPs asked 4,822 questions of the president and cabinet ministers, while NCOP MPs asked 549; and minutes were taken for 963 committee meetings in that financial year.
Africa Check asked parliament how many plenaries, joint sittings and committee meetings were held in the 2015 calendar year; but parliament is yet to reply. Our analysis of the parliamentary programme shows 101 plenaries and 10 joint sittings were scheduled for 2015. A summary by the information service NGO Parliamentary Monitoring Group lists 25 bills that were passed by parliament in 2015.
Committees – parliament’s ‘engine room’
The committees are described as the “engine room” of parliament because these are where much of the law-making and oversight work is done. The committees report regularly to the house and the house debates committees’ recommendations and takes final decisions.
The different types of committees include:
- Portfolio committees – there is one for each government department and they are made up of members of the national assembly.
- Select committees also oversee the work of the government departments, but are made up of NCOP permanent members and each committee covers more than one national department.
- Standing committees,
- Internal committees, which deal with matters affecting the running of Parliament,
- Ad hoc committees, which are appointed when a special task must be done, and
- Joint committees, which are appointed by both the national assembly and the NCOP.
Parliamentary Monitoring Group data shows 1,254 committee meetings were held in 2015.
Moves are afoot, however, to formalise the matter of attendance. In a May 2016 report, the rules committee of the national assembly issued a comprehensive review of the national assembly’s rules that has been under way since 2012. One of the stated purposes of the review is to “provide minimum standards for attendance of members in the business or activities of parliament”.
Included in the revised rules are that:
- All political parties must maintain attendance records for their members and these records should be submitted to the speaker for publication;
- An MP who is absent from three or more consecutive committee meetings of which he or she is a full member, without party approval, may be fined R1,000 for every day absent; and
- The secretary to a committee must every three months submit a report to the speaker on all members who have been absent from three or more consecutive meetings of a committee without approval.
The report is still under consideration.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group has lobbied parliament for a long time to gain access to plenary and committee attendance records, said Rashaad Alli, their projects and monitor manager.
The parliamentary oversight authority agreed to make this information available on the Parliament 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.”
What the Parliamentary Monitoring Group found was that in many cases the data it collected contradicts negative public perceptions about the work ethic of MPs. (Such as when the ANC’s Mnyamezeli Booi said that parliament wanted “to curb people who ‘are loitering’ and who only come to Parliament to collect their cheques”.)
Many of South Africa’s MPs work diligently, said Alli.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group has posted an attendance calculator on the People’s Parliament website using the data it has been collecting for MPs of the three main parties.
“Attendance at meetings is part of an MP’s job and should not be taken lightly,” said Alli.
However, 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 attendance records data collected and made publicly available by the PMG to find the “hardest-working MPs” based on how many committee meetings they attended in 2015.
The highest number of committee meetings attended by an MP was 70. All the people on the list attended 50 committee meetings or more. The MP who attended the most meetings is a member of a minority party, the United Democratic Movement, from the Eastern Cape.
How much does a 5-minute nap (or brawl) cost?
If an ordinary member of parliament nods off for five minutes when they’re supposed to be working, the cost in lost productivity is estimated to be about R43. Given that there are 400 MPs in the National Assembly and 54 in the National Council of Provinces, if each MP were to indulge in one five-minute nap a year, the cost to the country in lost productivity would be about R19,350.
- MPs annual remuneration information: Government Gazettes: 35653 (2012/2013), 37218 (2013/2014), 38470 (2014/2015), 39750 (2015/2016).
- Number of committee meetings held in 2015: Compiled from data collected by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group and made available on its website,
- MPs who attended 50 or more committee meetings in 2015: data set downloaded on 20/02/2016 from the People’s Assembly website. The downloadable data set has subsequently been changed to include only MPs of the three main parties, however, PMG has confirmed that the attendance figures used in Africa Check’s infographic “reflect the number of meetings attended by MPs present and we are fairly comfortable with them”. It should be noted that these data are not the official attendance record of Parliament. “PMG makes every effort to compile reliable and comprehensive information, but does not claim that the data is 100% accurate and complete.” – 08/06/2016 [Last updated: 18/08/2017]
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