THE Economic Transformation Commission of the African National Congress in the Eastern Cape is no household name, but it threatens to claim its 15 minutes of fame with a proposal that only one of President Jacob Zuma's four wives should be publicly funded.

The Presidency, typically, tries to skip the issue but the fact is that the state's "spousal support" to Mr Zuma, at about R15m a year, is almost double what it was to President Thabo Mbeki or during the brief reign of Kgalema Motlanthe.

The proposal may be discussed at the ruling party's big policy conference in Midrand next week and, if there is any justice left in the country, it should be carried. We have no objection whatsoever to Mr Zuma living a polygamous life - it is legal here - but he should pay for it out of his own pocket.

Of course, the wives are in play along with almost everything else as Mr Zuma presses for re-election as party leader at the end of the year. His lifestyle merely joins the queue behind leadership qualities, rotten judg ment, dodgy friends, poor policy, attention deficits and expensive travel tastes to be exploited by his critics.

The wives, in fact, may be the least of his problems. They all appear to be doughty citizens, capable of standing up for themselves and, should the need ever arise, of putting Himself in his place.

Still, having married them, he has certain obligations to them and it can't be cheap. Mr Zuma earns not far north of R2m a year, which, in the great scheme of things, is simply not enough with which to keep a very large family. It partly explains why he needs to stay in office.

The fact is, Mr Zuma may not earn enough. R2m a year is a senior (but not top) management salary in a JSE Top 40 company. Mr Zuma may not be terribly good at his top management job but that doesn't diminish the value of the job.

If presidents were paid more, limits could be placed on some of the more expensive luxuries of office, such as "spousal support". In fact, having to watch the pennies would do them a world of good. Not only would they be able to have some empathy with the rest of us, but learning how to live within your means at home is the perfect lesson to transfer to the country as a whole. Mr Zuma, though, has no clue about money, especially how it is made, and is in need of lessons. We should all hope that the Economic Transformation Commission in the Eastern Cape is not dissuaded from making its case next week.