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Limpopo - Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale appears to be abusing his office’s travel claims system at the expense of taxpayers.
The Star can reveal that the premier parked his official cars – a BMW 7 Series and a BMW X5 – so that he could ostensibly claim for using his private car for official duties.
The Auditor-General has quantified the amount irregularly accrued to Mathale for the period March 1 to August 30, 2011 to be R466 000. In his 2011/2012 audit report, Auditor-General Terence Nombembe declared the payment to Mathale as wasteful and fruitless expenditure.
The apparent abuse of public money took place after Mathale’s office flouted the government’s policy on the use of official vehicles. It disposed of his official car, a BMW 750i worth R1 million, before it had reached 120 000km or five years.
Chapter 5 of the Ministerial Handbook states clearly that government departments may purchase official vehicles directly from the manufacturer or their dealerships only when the current car provided for that office has reached 120 000km, or after five years, “whichever comes first”.
The policy allows the premier to claim for a travel allowance if he had indicated in writing that he would like to take this option and his office does not buy an official car for him.
The Star has seen Mathale’s office’s official responses to Nombembe. The premier’s office admitted that it had purchased a BMW 750i for the premier when he took office in May 2009. It also confirmed the existence of three other vehicles – an Audi Q7, a BMW X5 and a BMW 330i.
A fourth car, a luxury Mercedes-Benz, was written off in an accident at Ga-sekgopo village, between Modjadjiskloof and Polokwane, on March 29. Mathale’s driver lost control during heavy rain. The premier, who was in the car at the time, escaped with minor injuries but was off work for 11 days.
Mathale’s office conceded that Mathale’s private car had been used. “The office derived a benefit from the use of the private vehicle for official purposes and the premier has not been enriched at the expense of the office for the payment to qualify as fruitless and wasteful,” Mathale’s office said.
Mathale’s spokeswoman, Mashadi Mathosa, referred all enquiries to Limpopo government spokesman Tebatso Mabitsela. Mabitsela said he would comment only after receiving Nombembe’s official report.
The premier’s office added that it had got rid of the BMW 7 series in March last year because the vehicle was “unreliable due to the high number of breakages”.
Surprisingly, Nombembe found that the car’s kilometres had reached 119 875km by February 25 this year. This means the vehicle had travelled an additional 25 647km from the date it was declared unroadworthy. Mathale’s office said it had used the BMW 330i as an escort to the BMW 7 Series.
It had replaced it with the BMW X5 in August last year. The 2008 Q7 had also reached its kilometre lifespan as it had clocked 153 195km, said Mathale’s office. The Q7 had moved to the pool and was being used by the VIP protection unit.
The premier’s office insisted that provincial director-general Rachel Modipa had “adequately” considered the economic effect of the decision to use Mathale’s private car.
The office said it was forced to replace the BMW 7 Series before time “as it was repeatedly in and out of the garage”.
Mathale’s office said the ditched BMW was “not immediately written off and sold”, but was kept as a pool car because of a vehicle shortage.
Norman Mavhunya, the chairman of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union in Mathale’s office, said Nombembe had vindicated the union.
Financial mismanagement, maladministration, nepotism, tender fraud and corruption have been blamed for Limpopo’s woes. The province has failed to deliver textbooks to pupils six months into the school year.
While the Mathale administration has been credited with the delivery of RDP houses and the building of modern roads, basic services such as water are in short supply. The majority of its 6 million people live in abject poverty.
Various law enforcement agencies are currently probing allegations of tender fraud and corruption. Mathale and axed ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s business allies have been implicated.
Five Limpopo government departments have been placed under administration after the province was plunged into a R2.2 billion cash-flow crisis last year.