Driving on empty

Gov­ern­ment splurges on lux­ury cars for min­is­ters

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By BOBBY JOR­DAN and JAN-JAN JOU­BERT

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.”

‘Mid­dle fin­ger’

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.

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