It was interesting to note that at last month’s Judicial Service Commission interviews for the post of KwaZulu-Natal deputy judge president, Judge President Chiman Patel chose to grill Judge Isaac Madondo over the fact that he was the only judge in the division to enjoy the services of a dedicated driver.
Judge Madondo responded that he requested a personal driver over two years ago because he suffers from dizzy spells, especially on long trips. Hmmm. I’ll bet high court Judge Nkola Motata wishes he’d known of this option when he first discovered the effect that tea drinking had on his driving (and communication) skills. In the same week The Mercury reported on the interviews it carried a story that, following a decision taken by the KwaZulu-Natal legislature’s rules committee, sick notes written by traditional healers would no longer be accepted as motivation for personal drivers.
“This means that members of the provincial legislature (MPLs) who have been given drivers based on these medical certificates will now have to reapply and again justify why the state should pay for them to be chauffeured,” the article went on to say.
Those who felt they qualified would have to produce medical certificates from registered general practitioners or specialists. Of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature’s 70 MPLs, 22 — that’s almost one in three — currently enjoy the luxury of being chauffeured around by drivers who earn a monthly salary of R14 000 a month. Because they can employ anybody they like for the job, many MPLs hire their husbands, wives or other family members to play chauffeur. That obviously does wonders for the family budget while boosting the ego.
I don’t think we should get bogged down in arguments about nepotism, race, empowerment, arrogance, corruption, egos and discrimination against the sick, lame and lazy or anything else here. Let our politicians and bureaucrats who are physically incapable of safely driving themselves around have a personal driver. The only condition should be that when approval is granted the ailing person’s driver’s licence is immediately cancelled. When the incumbent loses his or her position the driver will, of course, no longer be available at the taxpayers’ expense, and the cancelled licence should be reinstated only after a rigorous medical examination by a state-appointed doctor.
An interesting question, in the meantime, and one that Judge Madondo can possibly answer, is how the courts would view a case where a politician, judge or public servant who had an official driver during office hours because of ill-health drove a car, perhaps over a weekend, and killed somebody in an accident after a blackout.
Even if it was only for a short trip.