King Goodwill Zwelithini is the chairman of the trust, which owns traditional land and the major townships of Umlazi, KwaMashu and Inanda. File photo: S'bonelo Ngcobo

KwaZulu-Natal - Zulu royal household staff bought R600 000 worth of groceries on the Royal Household Department’s account, saying it was for the queens, but helped themselves to the food, it emerged in a sitting of the provincial legislature’s standing committee on public accounts in Ladysmith on Tuesday.

The Royal Household Department caters for the welfare of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, but its political head is KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize.

Committee members were left fuming when they heard about the abuse of money meant for the king and his family.

“It is an insult to the queens. What disciplinary action has been taken? Have they apologised to the queens?” asked IFP MPL Lionel Mtshali. The acting head of the department Nhlanhla Ngidi, blamed the incident and other problems on the fact that the department had no full-time head.

Ngidi said there was also no policy governing the handling of these funds, which resulted in officials abusing the situation.

The office of the KZN auditor-general said in a report that it was concerned that officials could get away with helping themselves to money without being detected.

The Royal Household Department had to improve controls for buying of groceries, the auditor-general’s report said.

ACDP MPL Jo-Ann Downs was particularly angry that a recommendation by the forensic investigators into the matter was never implemented.

“I am also concerned about travelling expenses of R6 million, which constitute 10 percent of the budget of the department.

“No other department has spent so much on travelling,” said Downs.

There were also concerns that a senior and trusted aide, tasked with stabilising the finances of the household, was let off the hook after admitting that he had helped himself to R200 000.

Downs was angry that the aide was not prosecuted. “What worries me is that officials commit crime in some departments and then move on to other departments without consequences,” she said.

The chairman of the Royal Trust, Jerome Ngwenya, said not all misappropriation of funds resulted in criminal charges. “Any case that goes to court requires witnesses,” he said, suggesting that there were no witnesses.

Committee members were not satisfied and resolved to get a second legal opinion from the KwaZulu-Natal Integrity Unit, responsible for fighting corruption in the province.

Other concerns raised by the auditor-general’s office were the overexpenditure of R5.7m on the unit responsible for support services to the king. There was also unauthorised expenditure of close to R2m which was incurred by not following proper supply chain management process.

Committee members were also concerned that the overexpenditure and violation of tender processes was a recurring problem and proposed that this money should be charged against the next year’s budget.

Ngidi said systems were being put in place to ensure that the finances were better managed in future.

The Mercury