Johannesburg - The Gauteng Local Government and Housing Department has been ordered to refund the provincial government more than R35 million that was illegally used to fund the activities of its regional offices.

This emerged from the provincial government standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) under Sipho Makama on Wednesday, following reports that the department had unauthorised expenditure of R35m during the 2009/2010 financial year.

The unauthorised expenditure identified by the auditor-general occurred while Kgaogelo Lekgoro was still MEC of the department and before axed MEC Humphrey Mmemezi took over in November 2010. Mmemezi resigned in July this year after The Star exposed him for the misuse of his official credit card and crashing an official state vehicle.

Yesterday, Makama and his Scopa members were outraged by reasons given by the new MEC, Ntombi Mekgwe, on why her department had unauthorised expenditure of more than R35m.

Mekgwe told the committee in her written reply that the expenditure was incurred after her department, among other things, had to pay more than R1.3m for overtime done by auditor-general staff while they were auditing the department’s finances during those financial years. The department had initially budgeted R2.9m for auditing fees, but this escalated to R4.3m.

Mekgwe also claimed to have overspent more than R1.1m on phones and faxes in the department’s six regional offices. The amount initially budgeted for was R9.8m, but the department paid R11m by the end of that financial year.

It also emerged that during the same financial year, the department paid an extra R7.5m towards the leasing of buildings where its regional offices operated. The department had budgeted R7m for the leases, but the amount rose to R14.5m due to the unauthorised expenditure.

The department also came under attack for spending almost R10m on security companies guarding the regional offices without approval. According to evidence before Scopa, the department set aside R1.5m for security, but instead spent R11.4m.

This expenditure was also exposed by The Star earlier this year when it revealed how a company, Tshwane Firearm Training, was awarded an R11m tender to install CCTV cameras in the departmental headquarters without proper procedures being followed.

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