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MECs' R1,5m travel claims

Published Dec 7, 2009

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By Sibusiso Mboto

Pietermaritzburg Bureau

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Members of the KwaZulu-Natal cabinet have run up a travel claims bill of more than R1,5-million in three months, raising concern among opposition parties that the MECs may be abusing the travel allowance system, although they are not doing anything illegal.

The details were contained in a written response from Finance MEC Ina Cronje to a DA question on whether MECs were using vehicles bought by the state and how much the taxpayer had forked out in travel expenses for provincial cabinet members.

It has emerged that only Nomusa Dube, Maggie Govender and Willies Mchunu in the 11-member cabinet have been using state-bought vehicles.

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The acting head of the provincial Treasury, Lesley Magagula, said while there could be complaints over the costs incurred, the MECs were playing by the rules as prescribed in the ministerial handbook, which provinces had no say over.

The response from Cronje showed that Economic Development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu and Arts, Culture and Sports MEC Weziwe Thusi had clocked up the most mileage, claiming a combined R670 391 by the end of August. Mabuyakhulu, who travels in a Range Rover, claimed R383 000 from May to August.

"Her (Thusi's) activities have piled up since the sports portfolio was added to the department," said a government official in explaining Thusi's ballooning travel claims.

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DA caucus leader John Steenhuisen called for a rethink on the model, saying it was prone to abuse.

"According to the ministerial handbook, MECs who use private vehicles are reimbursed at three times the standard rate. The system, in its current format, is open to abuse and has become the easy way for MECs to supplement their income," he said.

Commenting on Mabuyakhulu's "staggering" claim, Steenhuisen said the MEC had made a habit of travelling home to Empangeni "on an almost daily basis".

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"The MEC has been permitted to travel home - a round trip of some 500km from Pietermaritzburg - even when Parliament is in session on consecutive days. This is despite the fact that official accommodation is available (in Pietermaritzburg). Given this bizarre arrangement, it is hardly surprising that he is KZN's worst offender," he said.

Details of the travel bill first came to light when Minority Front leader Amichand Rajbansi asked about the costs incurred by Mabuyakhulu's official travels.

Steenhuisen said he would call on Premier Zweli Mkhize and the cabinet to urgently review the system. "MECs should be leading the way and setting the tone for their departments.

"The DA calls on Premier Mkhize to institute an urgent review of the current regulations.

"No cabinet or executive is obliged to implement the full provisions of the ministerial handbook and the current financial crisis in the province behoves the cabinet and MECs to put an end to any wasteful or excessive expenditure."

The IFP leader in the legislature, Bonginkosi Buthelezi, called on Mkhize and his cabinet to provide more effective leadership by cutting down on travelling costs.

"While we applaud the cost-cutting measures announced, including calls for departments to hold workshops and other activities within their premises, the current rate of travel flies in the face of limiting costs. MECs, as political heads in their departments, need to lead by example," he said.

Buthelezi echoed Steenhuisen's call for a review of the system, which he warned was in danger of being abused "where MECs would travel just for the sake of it without adding any value".

With a further three months having already passed since the last count, it is believed the travel bill may have already passed the R3m mark.

- There is currently a review of the ministerial handbook, following the outcry when cabinet ministers, including Trevor Manuel, bought expensive luxury vehicles in line with government regulations, but inappropriate for a country in the throes of a receession, amid job losses and poverty.

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