WHILE residents continue to live under poor living conditions due to a lack of service delivery, the Eastern Cape MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), Zolile Williams, is allegedly planning to buy a R60 million helicopter for “disaster management”.
Sources within the department said Williams was so determined that he refused to listen and consider any advice against his grand plan.
The sources said Williams wanted to buy the helicopter to respond to disaster emergencies but they warned this would be wasteful expenditure because the helicopter would not help in the situation.
The sources told the Sunday Independent that Williams was advised to rather buy fire engines for municipalities that needed them, but he refused.
They said the plan was suspicious because the department bought drones to respond to emergencies in the province.
“There might be kickbacks from this whole thing. The way they are pushing it is suspicious,” said the sources.
They added: “We see this as a waste of money because the department already bought drones for such emergencies. And if there is enough money they should buy fire engines,” said the sources.
“Recently a house opposite the fire department In Aliwal North, which is now called Maletswai, burned down because that department doesn’t have a fire engine. When there was an incident on the N6 road, the fire workers had to use ambulances to get to the scene,” the sources said.
They added that this would be very expensive for the provincial government.
“This plan will waste a lot of money because they also want to hire two pilots, three engineers and a space for the helicopter parking. The department will be paying these people and for a space. That’s unnecessary. The helicopter would also need to be maintained. Think about that money. That’s a lot of money. But the MEC is determined to buy the helicopter so he can fly,” said the sources.
According to the sources, the province approved the plan.
“We also heard that the provincial treasury has made R60 million available for this plan. That’s what we were told by the MEC.”
Eastern Cape is one of the worst-performing provinces in terms of financial management and service delivery.
The province’s irregular expenditure incurred in the financial year 2021/2022 was R1.35 billion, according to the auditor-general report. This was largely because of the provincial transport non-compliance in procuring bus services. This department was the highest contributer to irregular expenditure in 2021/22 at R415.4 million, mainly due to an ongoing bus contract awarded irregurlaly in prior years.
The report also found that 79% of the irregular expenditure related to non-compliance with the supply chain management requirements of competitiveness and transparancy. The irregular expenditure closing balance increased from R6.5 billion in the previous year to R7.5 billion in 2021/22.
“Investigations into irregular expenditure also took longer to conclude, which affected accountability processes – an issue that we have repeatedly highlighted over the last few years.Since we began implementing the material irregularity process in 2018-19, we have notified accounting officers and authorities of 17 material irregularities in provincial government with an estimated financial loss totalling R167 million.
These material irregularities include payments for goods not received, non-compliance with procurement processes leading to incorrect suppliers being appointed, interest and standing-time payments due to late payments, and suspected fraud,“ said the auditor-general.
Last month, Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka said she would monitor the provincial government after her investigation revealed a range of glaring service delivery failures that often put the lives of residents at risk.
She said the provision of housing, poor roads due to backlogs, healthcare and overcrowding at schools should be addressed urgently.
Gcaleka blamed the lack of proper planning by government departments for these problems.
The sources said: “These people can’t get the basics right. They are failing to deliver essential services. Why start with a helicopter when you can’t deliver basic services to the communities? The service delivery in this province is a real challenge.”
Williams’ spokesperson, Pheello Oliphant, denied the allegations and said the department was not contemplating purchasing a helicopter for R60m.
“A price tag of this exorbitant scale is way too high. Even if the department had a budget for such a transaction, the ‘business judgement rule’ does not permit the department even to consider such a decision,” he said.
Oliphant said in an endeavour to respond to the frequent disasters that ravaged the province, the provincial government purchased drones that would help to assess the disaster and identify disaster-stricken communities in need of help.
He added that the current containment austerity measures adopted by the government would not permit such a purchase, even if the department wished for such a purchase.
Asked if Premier Oscar Mabuyane was aware of the plan, spokesperson Yanga Funani said there were no such plan and that Mabuyane would not be aware.
Asked if the office was aware and approved this, Eastern Cape Treasury spokesperson Pumelele Godongwana said the department was not aware of such a plan and therefore have not approved it.
The province is not new to allegations of controversial deals.
During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the Eastern Cape health department purchased motorcycles after getting complaints from rural communities that ambulances could not reach the sick and elderly due to poor road infrastructure.
The R10.1 million contract was awarded to Fabkom Pty Ltd for the supply of 100 scooters with sidecars.
The contract was later declared invalid and unlawful by the Special Tribunal. This saw the then MEC Sindiswa Gomba being released from her duties due to the procurement scandal.