Half a million in travel bills: Daily Dispatch:

MEC’s pleas for tighter belts ignored

THE financially troubled Eastern Cape has spent almost half a billion rand on travel and accommodation despite numerous calls for austerity measures.

Picture: MARK ANDREWS Chevy-Lea de Jong prepping the Christmas House shop at Vincent Park Centre for all the jolly shoppers looking for some special Christmas decorative pieces this seasonA finance portfolio committee report revealed a spend of R429-million on travel and accommodation in the 2013-14 financial year.

The majority – R340.6-million – went on accommodating civil servants at B&Bs and hotels.

Eastern Cape finances have been criticised in the past, especially in light of challenges like:

● In March, 32 public schools took the department of education to court, with the assistance of the Legal Resources Centre. In terms of the settlement, the department agreed to reimburse the schools some R30-million in salaries they had paid out to teachers the department acknowledged it should have been paying;

● The Daily Dispatch revealed this week that schools might not receive all their textbooks and resource material as the department plans to cancel some of its orders to pay teachers;

● Thousands of deserving pupils have to find their own way as the transport department budgets to ferry only 56 000 pupils – R356-million – leaving 39 000 without transport this year; and

● Nurses from Dimbaza Health Centre say they have not been paid for overtime shifts this year, without any explanation.

Finance MEC Sakhumzi Somyo earlier this year acknowledged spending on travel and accommodation was high and said he planned to discuss cost-cutting measures with other provinces.

“We’re going to check with Free State and other provinces on how they keep costs low.”

The finance report, tabled recently, revealed that one general manager claimed R138 000 in four months for travel alone. This is in addition to a travel allowance paid each month. Some of the official’s claims are: ● R28 282 for travelling to meetings from his Gonubie home to Mthatha, Kokstad and Cacadu municipality from November 3 to 14 2013;

● R16 323 for attending meetings in Queenstown, Mthatha and Port Elizabeth between December 5 and 12. This included an ANC meeting; and

● R24 668 for a week in January 2014 when he travelled to Aliwal North, Sterkspruit, Queenstown and King William’s Town.

Department spokesman Gcobani Maswana said the travel claims were justified because the province was rural.

Somyo said his department was looking at installing video conferencing facilities in most of the department’s offices to cut travelling.

“We are looking at encouraging people to try to share transport instead of all travelling in different vehicles.”

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Finance portfolio head and ANC MPL Xolile Nqatha described the claims by the official and the almost half a billion rand spend as shocking.

“This calls for tighter monitoring and oversight to ensure these amounts are reduced and accounted for.”

DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said the spending was unacceptable and showed that officials were ignoring parliament recommendations for belttightening.

“Heads of departments should start to monitor this type of claim more closely to avoid similar occurrences,” he added.

During his maiden medium-term budget policy statement Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said: “Efficiency improvements will be prioritised in the core areas of service delivery – basic education, health, roads and social development.”

UDM MPL Max Mhlati described the claims as fraud and corruption, saying HoDs must scrutinise claims properly before approving them.

“Some officials claim more than their monthly salaries,” Mhlati said. —