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MBABANE – Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a E1.5 million-priced Mercedes Benz, which government bought for the official use by Thanda Mngwengwe.  

Mngwengwe is the former Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Government purchased the Mercedes Benz ML63 in 2014 from Union Motors in South Africa.
Impeccable sources told the Times SUNDAY that the car was never registered with the Central Transport Administration (CTA), a department under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport responsible for the registration and maintenance of government vehicles.

However, they said it was alternatively registered with the High Commission of the Kingdom of Eswatini to the Republic of South Africa. Dumsile Sukati, the High Commissioner of Eswatini to South Africa, said her staff had checked all car registers to ascertain if Mercedes Benz ML63 was registered with the country’s foreign mission. She said the report she got reflected that the car was not registered with the Kingdom’s High Commission.

“We know all the cars car that were bought by the commission in 2014 and the one you are talking about is not registered with us,” she said in an interview on Friday.

Washington Khumalo, the General Transport Manager of CTA, said lusiba (referring to the high commissioner) could be speaking out of misinformation.
He said the registration of the vehicle was done by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs – not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

He said Lorraine Hlophe, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, could be in a good position to shed light on the issue. Khumalo mentioned that the car belonged to government. He was hopeful it would be returned to the government.
“It (car) belongs to the ministry. I hope they will return it to government,” he said.

Sources said the vehicle was registered with the High Commission for security reasons in that the ex-ACC boss did not want the vehicle to bear the country’s number plate because he regularly travelled to South Africa where foreign registered cars were easy targets for carjacking.
Mngwengwe is a South African citizen. His contract as a commissioner of the ACC expired in January 2018.

Government advertised the vacant position of commissioner at ACC and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is yet to unveil the new boss.  
Interviewed sources and executives did not remember the number plate of the car because Mngwengwe hardly used it. They could only recall that it was a Mercedes Benz ML63, which cost government E1 593 756. 

Hlophe, the PS, said she was busy with issues related to the general elections when she was contacted for comment on Friday. She then said Edgar Hillary, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, could assist with information on the matter.
The principal secretary, on a parting shot, advised the news desk to send a questionnaire to her. She acknowledged receipt of the emailed questionnaire: “I will find out.”

She had not done so at the time of compiling the report. On the other hand, Hillary said he was not a controlling officer but a politician. In fact, he was puzzled that he was being called upon to answer questions related to the acquisition of vehicles. “I don’t purchase cars; I am a politician. Ask the PS, she’s the controlling officer,” he said.

This is not the first time the ACC has been dogged by the controversies surrounding the whereabouts of its vehicles. In March 2018, the Times SUNDAY uncovered that three brand new VW Golf 7 GTI hashback vehicles purchased for the commission went missing.

Each of the vehicles was purchased at a price of E421 436.84, which means a total of E1 264 310.52 was spent on the acquisition. The vehicles, which were red in colour, were 2017 models purchased from VW Palm Motors in South Africa.

The cars were delivered in the country and further registered with the Motor Vehicle Register. Their whereabouts remains a mystery even to date.
One of these vehicles was given the government registration number GDS 023 JU but used the private registration number VSD 943 BH
A second vehicle was allocated the government registration number GSD 013 JU, with its private registration number being VSD 944 BH   
The third vehicle bore the government registration number GSD 022 JU while its private registration number was VSD 945 BH.

Hillary had told reporters and Parliament that he had found the vehicles. He assured a Times of Swaziland journalist that he would show him the cars as they were being driven by the ACC employees.

Five months down the line, the minister, whose term of office expires on September 4, 2018, alongside his Cabinet colleagues, has not done so.
Asked about the whereabouts of the Golf vehicles, the outgoing minister said he mistook them for Jetta cars and adamantly refused to talk about them. “Which Jetta cars are you talking about,” he enquired before this reporter put him in the picture that he was referring to the Golf cars.

Even then, the minister insisted that he was not responsible for the acquisition of vehicles. Attempts to get hold of Mngwengwe failed. The Times SUNDAY visited his rental apartment at Timbali Lodge in Ezulwini where security officers said he left the place sometime ago.
Jabu Phakathi, the ACC spokesperson, could not be reached through her two mobile numbers and landline on Friday and yesterday. On Friday, she was contacted five times and the same number of times yesterday. The last call was made at 5pm.

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Should government fix its existing fleet of vehicles or purchase a new fleet?