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Port Elizabeth - The Eastern Cape health member of the executive council (MEC) Helen Sauls-August was still using the vehicle from her previous portfolio, her office said on Wednesday, dismissing claims of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) that she had been gifted a brand new car of just under a million rand. 

The DA came out guns blazing saying that spending R901 000 on a brand new car for the MEC was an outrage given that the province could only spend R325 000 on wheelchairs, hearing aids, and orthodontics. 

The opposition party said that only a new MEC appointed after an election was entitled to a new vehicle. 

"The question that needs to be asked is ‘what has happened to the fiscal consolidation strategy of the minister of finance?’ Buying a vehicle at this price is giving the middle finger to fiscal austerity," DA finance spokesperson Bobby Stevenson said in a statement.

However, Sauls-August's spokesperson, Lwandile Sicwetsha, said that the amount reflected in the adjustment budget was money paid for a car for the previous MEC for health.

"[The] department had to replace MEC [Pumza] Dyantyi’s vehicle last financial year as it had reached its 120 000 km limit. We wrote to provincial treasury and they eventually issued an instruction that we could purchase the Q7, which we ordered and arrived before the end of the year," Sicwetsha said.

Sicwetsha said the department requested a roll-over to avoid shifting funds from service delivery for something budgeted for in the previous year and payment was made in June 2018. 

Stevenson said that the province was cash-strapped and that of the approximately R4 billion it had requested in the adjustment budget, the province had only been allocated R675 million.

"Health requested R1.8 billion, and received R325.9 million," Stevenson said. 

He added that corruption in the Eastern Cape undermined service delivery and that the Auditor General had found irregular expenditure of R5.26 billion.

"This could grow by a further R1.73 billion which is currently under investigation," Stevenson said.

African News Agency (ANA)