Trevor Manuel allocated R5,4-billion to improving the country’s crime-fighting abilities, but perhaps a portion of that cash should have been allocated either to the treasury’s budget security team or to hiring a new one.
Security was tight at the Pretoria lock-up for the press last week, but blunder number one from the security personnel occurred at the parking that the treasury had arranged for the media. The security officer who greeted us at the gate took issue with the Mail & Guardian budget team’s attempts to buy cappuccinos from a nearby coffee shop.
Anyone who has tasted the instant coffee on offer during budget day would have sympathised with our attempts. Not the guard, who insisted: “I have to escort you from the car park to the [treasury] building.”
“Well then, you will have to escort us to the coffee shop and then to the building,” we replied. Incredibly, he ran off to authorise this with his supervisor and then proceeded to follow us to the coffee shop.
As we entered the treasury building we formed a line behind a desk. Time for common sense-blunder number two. Another security officer asked me for my cellphone, memory stick, 3G-Card and dictaphone.
When I responded that I didn’t have any of those items on me, she proceeded to take my calculator away from me. “I need that to work upstairs,” I pleaded. Besides, it was a basic plastic calculator; I could hardly transmit secret budget data to our newsroom with it.
She looked at me perplexed as if she couldn’t understand what use a calculator would be to me upstairs, but eventually handed it back after a superior intervened.
Once we were firmly installed in an office in the treasury building with budget documents and computers we got down to business — until I tried to exit the room to have a conversation with one of my colleagues about how we were going to divide the budget coverage up between us.
“Sorry sir, but you can’t remove the budget documents from the room,” said a security guard. “I just want to chat to my colleague who’s sitting in that room across the hall so we can decide how we’re going to divide the budget coverage up between us,” I protested.
“Sorry sir, you have to leave the budget books here,” she said. “But this document has all my notes in them. How can I discuss the budget with my colleague if you won’t let me take my notes across to that room?” I asked.
I was dumbstruck: we had no way of communicating with the outside world and we were talking about moving the document 3m across a hallway. Luckily I was rescued by another superior who said that of course we could take the budget documents into that room, no problem.
So when it comes to the treasury, common sense does eventually prevail; it just takes a while.