Driving on empty
Government splurges on luxury cars for ministers
The government has splurged R11.8-million on 13 luxury cars for ministers in the past six months, despite a shrinking public purse and austerity measures introduced to curb such spending.
The spending is detailed in National Treasury documents circulated in reply to questions by DA MP David Maynier to parliament’s standing committee on appropriations this week.
The documents reveal that several departments asked for budgetary deviations so that their ministers could travel in style. The latest vehicle binge cocks a snook at belttightening measures introduced by former finance minister Pravin Gordhan in 2013.
Gordhan and the Treasury capped the price of cars for ministers at around R500 000 and this was adopted as government policy by the cabinet.
At the time that was the price of an entrylevel BMW 5 Series, but a car like this now sells at around R700 000.
Make mine a Merc
The two most expensive vehicles among the 13 were bought by the Department of Public Works — a Mercedes-Benz GLE 350d (R1.23million) and a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 (R1.26-million) for use by Minister Nathi Nhleko and his deputy, Jeremy Cronin.
The reason given for the purchase was that the vehicles replaced two BMWs that were seven and 10 years old and had more than 120 000km on the clock — the mileage prescribed by the ministerial handbook.
The handbook provides guidelines on the procurement of “tools of trade” for cabinet ministers and has been under review since 2010.
New deputy, new cars
The Department of Public Works shifted money from its support services budget to pay for the cars.
The Department of Small Business Development bought a big car for minister Lindiwe Zulu: a Mercedes-Benz E400 at R1.1-million. Her deputy, Nomathemba November, got a Lexus GS 350 at R900 000 and a BMW 5 Series for R1-million.
The department said the previous ministerial car was due for replacement and November, new to the post, was entitled to two new cars.
Faith Muthambi, the minister of public service and administration, scored a new Lexus RX 350 EX (R813 886) after her previous vehicle was damaged in an accident.
Spare no expense
The Department of Transport bought four vehicles. Minister Joe Maswanganyi received a Toyota Fortuner at a relatively modest R557 927 and a Mercedes-Benz E350d at R984 000, while his deputy, Sindi Chikunga, now has a BMW X5 (R984 000) and a Jaguar (R800 000).
Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, the deputy minister of science and technology, has received a new Audi Q7 at R1-million, after the previous vehicle notched up 150 000km.
Deputy Minister of Communications Tandi Mahambehlala has a Jaguar XF 2.0d RSport at R748 941 and a Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 at R755 888.
Yesterday, finance ministry spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said there was no cap on the cost of new ministerial cars because none had been passed by the current cabinet. “I can't find a trace of such a policy in existing resolutions. A policy is now being processed,” he said.
Limos for the lucky
Maynier said he was shocked.
“It is just wrong, when we are facing the biggest fiscal crisis since the global financial meltdown, for ministers — who should ultimately be leading the belt-tightening fight — to be spending millions of rands on flashy ministerial vehicles, especially when ordinary people are struggling every day just to put food on the table,” Maynier said.
“National Treasury, to their credit, have implemented cost-containment measures, but they appear to be simply ignored by the departments.”
Howard Dembovsky, chairman of the NGO Justice Project South Africa, which monitors road traffic administration, described the vehicle expenditure as an abuse.
“What possible justification does one have for that other than ‘I want to be flash’? What is the difference between this and Robert Mugabe’s son buying two RollsRoyces? It simply astounds me that they feel it is necessary to keep showing everybody the middle finger,” Dembovsky said.