Ezemvelo’s couchgate

2014-07-02 00:00

THE provincial wildlife organisation spent over R200 000 on just eight pieces of luxury furniture before they hosted the provincial cabinet at their premier ­Drakensberg lodge.

And just hours after being questioned about a lavish R472 000 spent on gifts and décor at the same event by The Witness last week, (which included the luxury furniture on the graphic), three leather couches and two leather chairs were removed from the special expense account created for Premier Senzo Mchunu’s high-level lekgotla held at Didima Lodge in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park on May 28 and 29.

A source within Ezemvelo said one “fancy couch” was equal to paying for “12 kits for field rangers”.

Another source at the conservation authority said it was not uncommon for large amounts of cash to be moved from one area of the business to another on an emergency basis to pay for conferences or events. “It appears that the couches were removed [from the expense account created for the premier’s function]. Oddly the leather polish remained. It is unclear where the items were moved to,” said the source.

This revelation comes just days after Weekend Witness revealed that R1,5 million was released on an emergency basis — circumventing normal tender regulations by the provincial conservation body — to pay for an urgent upgrade of Didima Lodge.

The money was released 48 hours prior to the two-day meeting of the newly appointed provincial cabinet after the national provincial election. The money was made available from proceeds generated from the annual Ezemvelo game auction, which raised R16,5 million in May — the largest taking in its 25-year history.

Other guests — totalling about 150 people — at the lodge included members of the legislature, support staff, former MECs and businessmen and women who also attended a Workers Parliament held nearby on May 30.

Meanwhile it was also established that this is the second large purchase of luxury furniture by the parks authority. In September 2013 the wildlife body spent just over R100 000 on two leather couches when the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve hosted the Metro FM Girls Gone Wild Weekend — a competition run by Ezemvelo through the national radio station offering an all-expenses paid holiday.

The weekend exposé sparked an unprotected protest by employees over the last two days at Ezemvelo’s headquarters in Montrose, Pietermaritzburg. The protesters claim they have been in a R70 million dispute owed to workers as a “migration allowance” along with allegations of nepotism and financial mismanagement in the upper echelons of the institution.

Ezemvelo spokesperson Musa ­Mntambo would not comment and said the authority is compiling a media release to deal with both the issue of the strike and the R1,5 million released in May for the premier’s visit.

Oscar Ngcobo, owner of Gone Rural, the company that netted R661 000 in business from the two-day premier bush bash, confirmed selling the items to Ezemvelo.

Responding via SMS as he is out of the country he said, “Yes, indeed they made those purchases from me. It was such mad rush and I’m actually still waiting [sic] payment from them.”

DA provincial spokesperson for conservation Ann McDonnel called this latest revelation “fruitless expenditure”.

“At the legislature we have yet to hold a portfolio committee on conservation but I will certainly be raising these issues.

“Ezemvelo may operate as a separate entity but they are governed the Public Finance Management Act and they must go through the right channels. What happened at Didima is a clear case unplanned expenditure,” said McDonnel.

McDonnel said she was concerned that conservation often suffered for short term job creation.

“Despite our great pieces of legislation, quick-fix job creation trumps ­conservation.”

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