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No SUVs for chiefs

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Protest over the provincial government’s perceived intended purchase of a fleet of vehicles for traditional leaders at a cost of many millions comes at a time of a reported increase in annual salaries of thousands of headmen across the country.
In a media statement issued on Monday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Limpopo raised alarm on recently appointed Provincial Treasury MEC Rob Tooley apparently having sought approval from National Treasury for the purchase of 700 Mercedes Benz MLs for traditional leaders to the tune of more than R600 million without their contribution. In the statement the EFF shares their interpretation of the removal of former Provincial Treasury MEC Rudolph Phala, listing his alleged refusal for the purchase of the sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for the benefit of traditional leaders as one of the reasons for being replaced by Tooley when Premier Stan Mathabatha recently reshuffled the provincial Cabinet.
When approached for comment, Tooley said he had not sent a memo seeking approval from National Treasury for the purchase of vehicles for traditional leaders. Calling the EFF statement completely outrageous, he indicated a request had been received for an estimated 185 vehicles from Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) on behalf of mahosi and that they were waiting for a policy directive from the national department. If all happened according to the rules, the purchase price would not be exceeding R350 000 per vehicle and it would definitely not be luxury cars, Tooley assured.
The reference to the purchase of the vehicles was contained in the statement by the Provincial Command Team of the EFF, claiming it had been reliably informed that Phala’s removal was due to him having refused to be dragged into looting of state resources and corruption-related tendencies. The EFF further noted it had always been suspicious about the removal of the then MEC, which compelled them to dig deeper into the matter. The EFF firstly alleged Phala had been removed after refusing to purchase two portions of land valued at R400 million in Greater Tubatse and Tzaneen areas from friends of Mathabatha without the evaluation being done, to appoint contractors not meeting the requirements for RDP houses and thirdly “to purchase 700 Mercedes Benz ML series to the value of over R600 million to traditional leadership as part of the ANC’s 2016 local government electioneering”.
The EFF stressed that “these developments are very much worrying as they are paving a (the) way for more corruption and looting of state resources. These activities will be intensified as no one will question them in the executive because the Premier is only appointing ‘the yes men and women’ in order to open the flood gates for graft”. The EFF stressed they would never allow their respected traditional leaders to be used to woo poor communities and treat them as voting cattle by simply buying the leaders cars while failing to provide the masses with basic services.
The EFF statement concluded with a warning to Tooley to refrain from being involved in the Premier’s alleged corrupt tendencies and to refuse to be dragged into the mud. They lastly indicated the intention to turn to the Auditor-General and Public Protector to have the matters raised investigated.
The intended purchase of vehicles for traditional leaders was already announced in Mathabatha’s State of the Province address delivered to the Legislature towards the end of February. Then he said the purchase of vehicles for traditional leaders over the next medium term period was a measure of supporting the institution of traditional leadership. He indicated that the MECs for Coghsta and Provincial Treasury, in consultation with the House of Traditional Leaders, would work out a mechanism in terms of which the vehicles would be allocated to traditional leaders over the period.
For purposes of clarifying the matters addressed in their statement, EFF Legislature Member Jossey Buthane was approached and confirmed the statement on the purchase of 700 luxury vehicles for traditional leaders, who are considered public representatives. He agreed to the undertaking of purchasing vehicles for traditional leadership, but said it had to be done without flouting processes and procedures. According to Buthane the Premier shouldn’t be seen to be donating the cars. The EFF, he explained, was fighting against the ruling party using the matter to gun for electioneering support.
EFF Provincial Commander Michael Mathebe was of the opinion that Mathabatha intended skipping the arrangement to secure the 40% contribution by traditional leaders standing to benefit from the proposed transaction. He reckoned that the provincial government could opt for a cheaper brand of vehicle and also for vehicles more appropriate for use in rural settings, instead of the luxury sedans apparently earmarked for chiefs and senior traditional leaders. According to him kings and paramount chiefs were destined to get the top-of-the range vehicles going for an estimated R930 000 unit price. Such luxury vehicles could not be regarded tools of the trade, he added.
The Office of the Premier noted with shock what it called a disturbing media statement by the EFF. The lies and innuendo the EFF perpetrated could not be left without response, it was stated in a follow-up media release issued by Premier’s Spokesperson Kenny Mathivha later on in the day.
In its response the Office of the Premier further stated that the appointment and reshuffling of the Executive Council (Exco) was the sole prerogative of the Premier. “On the recent one, the Office reiterated that it was after an intensive evaluation of all Members of the Executive and the Premier satisfied himself that there is need for capacity building.” On the issue of traditional leaders getting vehicles, it was commented that it was best addressed by the various meshate (traditional councils) and magoshi (traditional leaders). “A precedence had been set that magoshi are always afforded tools of trade like transport and medical care. The mentioned tools of trade have nothing to do with local government elections. It would be wrong for the EFF to insinuate that our traditional leaders have no brains and therefore do not know what they actually want for them to be effective rulers.” Lastly, the response to the land purchase alleged by the EFF was that “the issue of land is a non-issue to us, and have no idea what the EFF is talking about”.
In addition Provincial Government spokesperson Phuti Seloba explained that the provincial government was in the process of assessing the best way of maximising the purchase of vehicles within a legal framework. “Government hasn’t purchased anything.” They were not yet at that stage of being able to say how many vehicles would be purchased, he said. He added saying that it would not be the first time government would be purchasing vehicles for traditional leaders. Seloba stressed that the vehicles were necessary for traditional leaders to perform their duties. He said it was neither a luxury as projected by the EFF, nor done for purposes of an electioneering campaign. “We’ll never forget we are running a very poor province,” he concluded.

Story: YOLANDE NEL
>>observer.yolande@gmail.com