Ministers' vroom vroom bling bling

2014-07-27 15:00

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R60?million can buy you a lot of flashy cars – just ask South Africa’s Cabinet ministers.

In the first five years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, that’s how much his ministers and deputy ministers spent on Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Porsche Cayennes, Range Rovers and Audis.

Some were bought as official vehicles and others were rented, sometimes for months at a time. The spending on cars has tapered off since its peak in 2009, when government departments forked out R32.5?million for ministerial wheels.

This information is contained in five years’ worth of parliamentary questions and answers compiled by the DA. The biggest spenders on new and rented vehicles were the following departments:

»Communications (R5.9?million)

»Rural development and land reform (R5.3?million)

»Women, children and people with disabilities (R4.7?million)

The department of communications has been split in two and the department of women, children and disabilities is now the department of women in the presidency.

Some of the biggest price tags revealed in the parliamentary answers were:

»R5?million on new vehicles for the communications department under Siphiwe Nyanda. Two of these were for his then deputy Dina Pule – a Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI (R868?000) was bought for her Pretoria office and an Audi Q7 4.2 TDI (R757?366) for her use in Cape Town.

The communications department also spent R136?000 on extras for one of its cars, a BMW 750i, and R1?023?363 on vehicle rentals;

»The basic education department splashed R1.7?million on a BMW 730d and a Range Rover Sport TDV8 for Minister Angie Motshekga when she took office in 2009. It also used up R3.1?million in five years on other new vehicles and another R200?000 on rental cars;

»The most recent purchase revealed to Parliament was a Mercedes-Benz E350 (R706 389) bought last August for former deputy police minister Maggie Sotyu.

But since retaining office in May, only one of Zuma’s 10 new ministers and 27 new deputy ministers has considered buying a car.

Deputy Labour Minister Inkosi Phathekile Holomisa said in reply to the latest round of DA questions about cars that his department was “in discussions” to buy him a vehicle.

But National Treasury has said it was “too early to tell” whether this meant the spending spree was over. Its spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane said Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene would provide an update during his midterm budget speech in October about the “cost-containment measures” announced by former finance minister Pravin Gordhan last year.

“It is too early to tell how departments have responded to the cost-containment measures approved by Cabinet in October 2013, but these measures must be seen in the context of the difficult environment South Africa is in?...?[one] characterised by an economy that is performing below its potential and certainly way below the level of growth required to deal with the country’s challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality,” Sikhakhane said.

Alf Lees, the DA MP who sits on the standing committee on public Accounts, said ministers should lead by example by not buying luxury vehicles when cheaper options were available.

“Careless spending on cars indicates a state of mind where politicians don’t seem to have their priorities in line,” Lees said.

Brent Simons, the spokesperson for Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane, said ministers and deputies were already adhering to changes in the Ministerial Handbook – even though these haven’t been officially approved by Cabinet.

“Ministers are already beginning to comply on the purchase of vehicles. But the minister has also committed to expediting the process for the approval of the handbook by Cabinet,” said Simons.

Leading by example

When Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor’s official car, a Mercedes-Benz ML, broke down earlier this month, she did what any pragmatist would do – she used her private car. Pandor’s department bought the Merc for R711?000 in 2009.

Alf Lees, who represents the DA on Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts, said other politicians should emulate Pandor by not using taxpayers’ money for rental cars.

“I hope Pandor’s actions set a good example for not only her colleagues in Cabinet, but other politicians.

“She deserves to be praised and we commend her for that,” Lees said. The minister’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele confirmed that Pandor had used her private car and said it wasn’t the first time she’d done so. – Xolani Mbanjwa

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