Durban - More than 160 eThekwini Municipality vehicles - 87 of them new and worth millions of rand - have been kept unused at a staging yard for more than a year, according to an audit report.
The disclosure on Tuesday by the municipality’s audit committee that 87 new vehicles, and 79 used ones awaiting disposal, have been gathering dust, has left mayor James Nxumalo and opposition councillors fuming.
The new vehicles, bought for an undisclosed amount, have been kept at the yard since March last year, while the old ones, with a combined book value of R7.8 million, had been kept since December 2012.
The audit report also touched on the “apparent inappropriate” use of Section 36 of the municipality’s supply chain policy, which was being used to avoid the tender process.
A member of the audit committee, Peter Christianson, said the city had a fleet of more than 6 500 vehicles. He said some of the grounded vehicles might have been excessively used – and even abused.
Nxumalo told the city’s Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday he was concerned by the report, and called for the matter to be dealt with as a “matter of urgency”.
“This is unacceptable. We can’t buy cars and have them staying in a yard for a year. What is the use of buying cars when there is no use (for them)?”
City treasurer, Krish Kumar, said the new vehicles were not being used because they were yet to be branded, customised and fitted with tracking devices.
They were also not yet registered for use, he said.
Kumar said the fleet would be used by various departments, such as water, electricity and Durban Solid Waste.
He said officials were getting them ready for use.
DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said it was bad planning to have 166 city vehicles unused.
He dismissed Kumar’s explanation, saying the city was opening itself to risk by having new vehicles in its possession without tracking devices already fitted.
He asked what would be done if vehicles were stolen from the yard.
“Every now and then you hear that a certain department wants to buy new cars… The problem lies with poor planning and the poor mindset of leadership,” Mncwango said. He said the old vehicles should be auctioned, with the proceeds used for service delivery.
“The fact that we have cars that are parked and not being used says there is no need for them,” he said.
MF councillor Patrick Pillay said a thorough investigation of the city fleet unit was needed. He said buying the vehicles and not using them was “unacceptable”.
“Vehicles depreciate annually,” he said. “We need an investigation into this unit to ascertain what is really happening.”
Calling for action, the mayor said the issue was something the opposition could “raise a concern” about.
This was in apparent reference to concerns raised last week over the six luxury cars bought for his office, at a cost of about R3m.
However, Nxumalo defended the acquisition of a new mayoral fleet and said the cars would remain with the city when his term of office came to an end because they were “company cars”.
Two of the six vehicles would be designated to the mayor, while the remaining four would be used by visiting delegates and councillors who attended meetings in the mayor’s absence.
The audit report on the fleet said there was “apparent inappropriate use” of Section 36 and recommended that the practice be “avoided”.
The audit committee recommended that work be put out to tender and that section 36 be used only for genuine emergencies. It also found that suppliers who were non-compliant were being awarded work through section 36.
Nxumalo agreed that the matter needed to be “looked into”, but said when work was awarded through section 36, councillors applied their minds and were “strict in the way it is being utilised”.
ANC councillor Nigel Gumede said it was “100 percent incorrect” to suggest that the use of section 36 was always unacceptable.
Pillay said the concern was that section 36 was being used extensively. He said departments needed to plan better to avoid contracts being awarded without bidding processes.
Mncwango said the executive committee was to blame for the extensive use of section 36, saying there were only a few cases where a genuine emergency justified bypassing the tender processes.
He said he could not recall an occasion when officials were forced to take a tender back to the tender process.
Mncwango also accused officials of failing to plan adequately by advertising tenders.