Deputy minister is allegedly hanging on to two of the old cars, hoping the department will sell them to her
Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga rolls in luxurious German sports utility vehicles and UK sedans: a BMW X5, BMW X6, BMW GT and the Jaguar F-Type – all at taxpayers’ expense.
She also stands accused of allowing a relative to fill up her petrol tank using the Avis petrol card of the state-hired car she was driving.
A confidential transport department memo written by acting director-general Mathabatha Mokonyama late last month states that Chikunga should have returned her state-issued BMW X6 and BMW GT almost a year ago.
This was after the department bought her two new cars – a BMW X5 and the Jaguar.
The purpose of the memorandum was to instruct Zandile Maseko, who heads Chikunga’s office, to ensure the “deputy minister hands over the keys to the deputy minister’s old vehicles to the department and to make sure that any use of the vehicles is stopped”.
Mokonyama said that, according to the Ministerial Handbook, ministers and their deputies are allowed to have two cars each: one in Pretoria and the other in Cape Town.
Mokonyama said the cars can be replaced when they reach a mileage of 120 000km, or if they experience serious mechanical problems.
“Currently the deputy minister has four vehicles in her name on the asset register. Two old vehicles were replaced in March 2017 and in May 2017 respectively, but were never returned to the department to enable the department to dispose of the vehicles as required by the Ministerial Handbook,” Mokonyama writes.
Their continued use could lead to irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure, he warns.
Delays in selling them could compound the fruitless and wasteful expenditure because the cars depreciate in value over time.
However, in an official response, the department’s spokesperson Sam Monareng said: “According to our records, the deputy minister has two new cars that replaced the old ones, as allowed by the Ministerial Handbook. The two old vehicles she was using were returned to the department – and will be disposed of as required by the handbook.”
A whistle-blower who brought the information to the attention of City Press alleged that Chikunga was responsible for further abuses.
“The deputy minister is involved in another scandal where her office hired an Avis vehicle through the department. It is alleged that the vehicle was later used by the deputy minister’s relative,” he said.
“Thereafter, there was misuse of the petrol card. An excessive amount of petrol was paid for. It is alleged that Avis noticed a spike in the amount of petrol purchased on that specific day.”
The whistle-blower said Avis reported the incident to the department, which investigated.
“It is alleged that the petrol station’s CCTV recordings clearly show the footage of the deputy minister’s relative paying for petrol for both the Avis vehicle and that of a friend.”
And there’s more.
The two old cars allegedly had unpaid traffic fines, accumulated since last year, the whistle-blower said.
“The deputy minister has apparently attempted to get the department to sell these two cars to her. But she was apparently informed that it is against the policy of government and that vehicles must be sold at an auction where all South Africans can bid fairly for them.”
City Press has seen a separate memorandum in which officials ask Mokonyama to condone two irregular invoices – of R55 000 and R62 000 – to pay for trucks Chikunga allegedly hired from a company to transport documents and blankets from her home in Elukwatini, Mpumalanga, to her other home in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal.
Justifying the expenditure, the document’s authors claimed officials settled on the transport company because it operates after hours and the department’s official travel agency couldn’t be reached.
Officials claimed they settled on the transport company because Chikunga often used it for her “special projects”.
Monareng, however, said Chikunga had nothing to do with the company.
“The deputy minister has support staff that are responsible for all her administrative and logistical support. As a result, she doesn’t get involved in the logistics of hiring vehicles.”
Regarding allegations that Chikunga allowed a family member to fill up her tank with the state’s petrol card, Monareng said: “We can confirm that the department is investigating the misuse of a petrol card relating to the Avis car. The report is being processed and disciplinary action will be taken against those officials who are responsible for the misuse of state property.”