Like the cars in a BMW showroom, Cabinet ministers and their expensive tastes can now be divided into three categories: the fancy models, the modest cars and the used cars normally parked outside the showroom.
Most ministers, including former finance minister Trevor Manuel, headed straight for the fancy part of the showroom, buying top-of-the-range BMWs in which to cruise the tarmac.
A few opted for moderation — such as Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, whose Volkswagen Touareg, which comes at about half the price of Manuel’s new wheels, will get him from A to B.
Finally there are the used-car owners, including Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi and Public Works Minister Geoff Doidge, who are using the cars left behind by their predecessors.
Their virtue hasn’t helped them much, though: Baloyi and Doidge have been charged by the Cabinet with the task of explaining to the public why ministers such as Manuel “need” extravagant cars.
Their first attempt to do so failed miserably.
At a media briefing called especially to express the government’s view, Baloyi recited the stock response: the ministerial handbook says ministers may purchase vehicles to the value of 70% of their salaries; they did not break any rules.
His justification for expensive vehicles appeared to rest on the government’s failure to build decent roads.
“I come from Limpopo [where] about 5% of the roads are [such that] a vehicle can be used,” he said.
Baloyi is part of a task team that is supposed to look at possible changes to the handbook, but he said ministers will keep their cars and will not be forced to “downgrade” to more modest vehicles.
He said the task team would debate “morality versus convenience”.
“What is moral?” he asked. “What constitutes convenience when we look at the type of cars and the price of cars itself?”
Arguing that such a debate would clarify matters, he offered his own luminous contribution: “When you look at these things you will then see that, honestly speaking, to raise the issue of morality in this issue is to introduce a debate that belongs squarely in that environment.”
Baloyi tried his best, but perhaps those who have experienced the luxury of new leather seats for themselves would have done a better job of explaining than a used-car owner.