CLEAN AUDIT PARTY AT WHAT COST? DAILY DISPATCH

THE Eastern Cape Legislature in Bhisho plans to splash out an estimated R150 000 for a lavish party to celebrate its first ever clean audit.

The event, to be held in Bhisho’s Skenjana Hall on October 27, is being coordinated by legislature speaker Fikile Xasa’s office and will begin a few hours after a workshop to discuss ways to save costs.

Legislature officials remained tight-lipped this week over the total budget for the event, but the Saturday Dispatch was able to estimate the costs of the bash, based on quotations received so far.

Plans for the celebrations will see an estimated 340 guests – 63 members of the provincial legislature (MPLs) and 275 administration staff – seated on chairs covered in cream fabric with gold organza tiebacks.

These will complement 34 tables which will be covered in black with arrangements of fresh cream flowers. Including the podium, which will be draped in cream and gold, the total decorating cost will be R27 000.

Administration staff will each receive “double-decker Zarmy cooler bags” as corporate gifts, which will set the Bhisho government back about R47 800.

The 63 MPLs are also likely to receive gifts, expected to cost more than the cooler boxes.

Guests at Xasa’s thank-you bash will also be entertained by a jazz band, said one memo seen by the Dispatch, although costs for hiring the jazz band were not specified.

How much it will cost to cater for the 340 guests remains a mystery. But local caterers approached by the Dispatch gave a conservative estimation of R150 a head for each guest, food and drinks included – putting the sum in the region of R51 000.

This comes despite Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s repeated instruction to departments and State entities to tighten their belts and only spend on necessities.

Invitations for the party were sent out to MPLs and staff members this week.

Ironically, the event is scheduled to take place on the same day as a workshop hosted by legislature secretary Pumelele Ndamase with senior managers to discuss “the institution’s expenditure patterns”.

Speaker’s office general manager Sizwe Mzamo, who heads the event’s organising committee, refused to divulge the budget for the event, saying he was not authorised to do so. He also would not give details nor confirm costs suggested to him by the Dispatch.

But the news of the party was not well received by union members and opposition MPLs, who labelled the planned festivities as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Labour union Nehawu, which represents workers at the legislature, also snubbed an invitation to form part of the preparatory committee.

Nehawu chairman at the legislature Kerr Hoho said they distanced themselves because workers had unresolved workplace issues with management, including allegedly unauthorised deductions from employees’ salaries.

“The union cannot be part of celebrations while most benefit (grievances) of its members remain unsolved,” he said.

The DA also raised concerns that the speaker’s office had agreed to the event.

“Whatever the cost for the event, this money should be spent on providing much-needed services to the greater Eastern Cape community,” said Democratic Alliance member Dacre Haddon. “On a daily basis we hear how budget constraints erode service delivery to all,” he added.

COPE’s Mbulelo Ntenjwa felt it would have been better if the celebrations were for government winning the service delivery war in the province. “This has little meaning in terms of service delivery, and I think the money budgeted for should have rather been used to make a difference in poor communities.”

UDM leader in the legislature Max Mhlati reacted angrily, calling the celebrations a waste of money.

Mhlati, chairperson of the legisl standing committee on public accounts, said: “We serve only 63 members, so nothing stopped us from achieving a clean audit in the past.” Xasa, however, stood by his event. “What you must understand is the legislature has made history by being the first government department in the province to receive a clean audit. In fact, among all legislatures in the country, we are the first to get this, so why can’t we celebrate?”

The financial year ending in March 2011 marked the first time the Eastern Cape provincial legislature had received a clean bill of health from the Auditor-General. Since the 2007/8 financial year the institution has received an unqualified opinion, but with so-called “emphasis of the matter” on audit concerns.

Legislature chief financial officer (CFO) Mthunzi Njomba said the purpose of the celebrations was for Xasa to congratulate all involved for a job well done. This was especially relevant since government’s target of a clean audit for all government departments by 2014 had been met three years before the deadline.

Xasa said whatever quotes the committee planning the event came up with “ will have to be approved by the CFO, the secretary and finally me”.

“I’m not an extravagant person, and won’t waste government funds for little value.” — sabelos@dispatch.co.za