‘Give back that Benz’

2009-05-19 00:00

PRESSURE is mounting for the former KwaZulu-Natal premier and newly appointed Transport Minister, Sbu Ndebele, to return the Mercedes Benz valued at more than R1 million he received as a gift from contractors in the province on Saturday.

Opposition parties and public interest organisations have advised Ndebele to return the Mercedes Benz S-class valued at R1,14 million from Vukuzakhe emerging contractors, saying that accepting the gift would be a conflict of interest.

Ndebele started the programme while he was KZN MEC for Transport.

They said that if Ndebele accepts the gift without first informing the president and the cabinet committee, he would be breaking the law and violating the code of ethics for cabinet members.

The Democratic Alliance’s parliamentary spokesman on Transport, Stuart Farrow, said it is important that a cabinet minister be seen to be free of any conflict of interest.

Farrow said that President Jacob Zuma is on record as saying that he is committed to a corruption-free administration.

Ndebele must show that he is not beholden to Vukuzakhe contractors and must return the car, he said.

“This will help to give us confidence that any future contracts awarded to Vukuzakhe are based on their ability to deliver, not on the consideration of this gift,” said Farrow,

The Inkatha Freedom Party condemned Ndebele’s acceptance of the car and called on him to return it.

“Ndebele’s action constitutes conflict of interest and sets a bad example for the entire ANC government that has just been re-elected on a manifesto that promised to fight graft,” said the leader of the IFP in the KZN Legislature, Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi.

This proves that government contracts are awarded by politicians on a quid pro quo basis, he added.

The KZN spokesman for Congress of the People (Cope), Siyanda Mhlongo, said that Ndebele, like all ministers, will get a monthly car allowance and questioned if it is greed or a culture of consumerism that made him accept a R1,1 million gift.

Public interest organisations also called on Ndebele to return the car. They said the Executive Code of Ethics requires ministers to declare personal or private financial or business interests to the cabinet committee. The code also prohibits a member of the cabinet from soliciting or accepting a gift or benefitting from an organisation that may derive favours from the member.

The head of political information and monitoring in the Institute for Democary in South Africa (Idasa), Judith February, said Ndebele’s gift has the potential to be a conflict of interest.

She said given that Ndebele is Transport minister, the Vukuzakhe contractors may in future tender for the jobs outsourced by his department.

“It will be best for Ndebele to return the car. If he doesn’t a situation will be created where people would get the impression that the [Vuka-zakhe] contractors got the tender because of the gift,” said February.

The head of media and advocacy in the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Derek Luyt, asked:

 

“Why on earth are politicians given gifts for doing their jobs?”. He said that if cabinet members receive gifts valued at more than R1 000, they have to ask for permission to accept them from the president and declare the gifts to the cabinet committee. 

Ndebele said that over the last few months, he has been congratulated by several individuals and organisations for his contribution as both Transport MEC and premier, and among those were the beneficiaries of the Vukuzakhe programme. 

He said that Vukuzakhe contractors approached him before the 2009 elections and sought a date where they could hold a function in his honour, but he advised them to hold it after the elections as he was busy with election campaigns. 

“I attended the function [on Saturday] ... I was really shocked when they presented me with an S-500 Mercedes Benz ... I must emphasise I never knew about these gifts, never solicited them and never expected them. In addition, when this whole function was mooted by the emerging contractors, nobody knew where I was going or whether I would be appointed minister of Transport,” said Ndebele. 

He said he has sought guidance from the presidency, secretary of cabinet and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on how to handle a gift of such magnitude. 

“I would also want to state that we do not have any personal or private financial or business interest with the Vukuzakhe emerging contractor programme, which would constitute a conflict of interest on our part,” said Ndebele. </p><p>A spokesman in the presidency, Thabo Masebe, confirmed that Ndebele has declared the gift.

 

 

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