NEWS items


AN INSTRUCTION from the Treasury for public servants to save money has had a dramatic effect on their most private movements. Toilet paper costs have been cut by half, wiping R60 million off the state bill.

It is not clear how these savings have been achieved in the bloated public service, though Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene did report a reduction in total headcount of 10 000 staff when he delivered his medium-term budget policy statement last month.

It is unlikely, however, that 10 000 individuals out of 913 000 would account for a R60m sav-ing in toilet paper costs, even if they were among the more reg-ular visitors to the bathroom.

A more likely candidate could be other elements of Nene's cost-cutting measures, notably a clampdown on cater-ing expenses.

It would make sense for a sharp reduction in inputs -such as the lavish spreads that used to accompany governŽment functions - to have resulted in a commensurate reduction in outputs, that is their calls of nature.

Even in Parliament, pastries and cream cheese sand-wiches have noticeably given way to leaner snacks such as fruit and nuts, although also containing more roughage.

The serving of alcohol at government functions, known to be a factor in the frequency of certain urges, has also fallen victim to the minister's dry temperament.

So it is possible that Nene's efforts to contain fiscal inconti-nence have made an impact on the other variety

The information is conŽtained in a written reply from Nene to a parliamentary quesŽtion from the DA's Malcolm Figg, who clearly gives one when it comes to the public purse.

He asked for "(a) the total amounts and (b) breakdown of such amounts spent (i) by each specified department and (ii) on each specified service provider in respect of the transversal supply and delivery of toilet paper" and other saniŽtary items, including paper towels, baby and adult diapers, and "inconvenience pads" since 2010.

Nene was typically economŽical in his reply.

The total spent on these items since 2010 was R179.7m, he said - R120m of it between that year and 2012, and the rest, R59.6ni, between 2013 and this year.

He may have been flushed with the success of his austerŽity measures, but breaking it down by department would be pushing it, Nene said, as some departments had comprehen-sive cleaning contracts that included the supply of toilet paper.

A final possible explanation for the sudden clenching of the toiletry budget may be that someone was ripping off the state, and the leak has been plugged.

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