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Johannesburg - It was a single line about a R7.2 million maintenance cost and it has resulted in an MEC apologising to the premier, a change in the Gauteng budget, and an aggrieved premier.
Gauteng’s budget, tabled in the legislature last Tuesday, briefly listed the cost of maintenance of the state-owned premier’s official residence as R7.2m over the next three years.
The following day, The Star reported on this cost, and the issue became a political hot potato.
On Monday, Finance MEC Mandla Nkomfe sent a written apology to Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, saying the numbers were wrong.
A source told The Star that Nkomfe apologised to Mokonyane in the letter, saying he was “aware of the negative impression this has caused to the Office of the Premier and the premier in particular”.
An official media statement from Nkomfe’s office said the numbers were wrong and the bulk of the cost - R7m for spending in 2015/16 - should have been recorded as R500 000 instead, dropping total maintenance to R1.2m.
Nkomfe told The Star he would return to the legislature to explain the error.
“It’s just a mistake. “It couldn’t be deliberate,” said Nkomfe.
He said no other errors had been picked up in the budget.
“Finance is the one that messed up the figures,” Mokonyane told The Star on Monday.
In an interview carried out at the state-owned residence, the premier expressed her annoyance over having her name linked to the spending on the property.
“This is not my family house, it was not bought for me. This is an official residence,” she said, saying the spending went through the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID), not her office. She spends most nights there, but has not moved her family there.
The Star was not permitted a tour of the property, getting access only to the initial reception room and a brief view of a garden with an empty rim-flow swimming pool.
Mokonyane criticised what she regards as personal attacks on her over the spending on the official premier’s residence and on her official credit card.
She was so upset by the media reports that she consulted a priest.
Gauteng bought the official house in 2004 for about R11.5m. In 2011, The Star reported that Gauteng had spent about R25m on it, including the purchase.
Mokonyane blamed the high costs on “serious” structural problems and an inadequate maintenance plan.
She spoke of water seepage when it rained and damage to ceilings, walls and furnishings.
She has added “a touch of Nomvula”, like teacups patterned with pink flowers, which she prefers to government plain white cups.
Both the state-owned residence and her own home are national key points (NKPs), she noted. NKPs get special protection.
Mokonyane said the police paid for protection at her own home, including some structural costs, and this did not have to be repaid to the state unless she left her position before the end of her term.
Mokonyane’s spending on her official credit card has been the subject of recent media reports.
She said such cards were “tools of the trade” and issued to the premier and the MECs for government spending, particularly when the politicians have to host visiting dignitaries. They are also used to buy gifts for dignitaries, in line with protocol, or for spending on emergency items.
“I’m always cautious about the extent that I use government resources,” she said.
“If you are a premier, doing things on behalf of Gauteng, there are things that you have to do.”
The spending limit is R100 000 a month for the premier and R50 000 a month for MECs. “I have not spent more than R100 000 in a term, I’m not talking in a year,” she said.
“There’s not a single MEC or colleague of mine in the province who has actually taken advantage of those limits,” the premier added.