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AG LAUNCHES PROBE INTO RENTING OF VEHICLES BY GOVT

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MANZINI – The office of the Auditor General (AG) has launched an investigation into the renting of vehicles by government.

This happened at a time when our sister publication – Eswatini News – reported that the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) rented a car for the minister, Princess Sikhanyiso, at E1 100 per day. The rented vehicle was a luxurious Toyota Lexus sedan and has since been returned to Capital Car Hire. Princess Sikhanyiso is one of Cabinet ministers who were allocated brand new Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX cars that cost the taxpayer about E38 million in May last year.

The arrival of the new cars found her using a Toyota Lexus rented at a cost of about E1 100 per day, according to tender No. 132 of 2021/22. She did not accept the delivery of the Prado and it collected dust at the Central Transport Administration (CTA) until it was nearly burnt during the arson attack of January 4, 2022. It was only two days after the fire that officials from the ICT ministry went to collect the vehicle. On the same day, the ministry also returned the Lexus to the car rental company.

Audit

Following this, the office of the Auditor General (AG), Timothy Matsebula, was sought for comment on whether this was viewed as an audit query. He was also sought to establish if this was wastage of taxpayers’ money and if his office would launch an investigation into the matter. In response, Matsebula said the procurement of the fleet for ministers was to ensure that government saved money. He said what needed to be determined was whether the security threat was there. The AG acknowledged that so much happened last year. Matsebula clarified that the issue was not yet an audit query, as he had not raised it. In fact, he said the probe was instituted well before the issue of the minister was brought to light. On the Minister of ICT issue, the AG said he could not commit to a comment because it was not yet an audit query.

He said: “I assigned officers to look at the issue of car rentals. They are auditing the car rentals and they are not done yet.” He was referring to all recent instances where cars had been rented by government. He further said once the audit was completed and a report was available, it would be assessed and evaluated based on the responses from the Ministry of ICT, given the questions that were sent to him. This, he said, would guide them in establishing if it had to happen. It is worth noting that at the height of the political unrest, a month after the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX vehicles were delivered, some ministers opted to use their personal cars, while those that were being chauffeured in the official automobiles, had a police officer assigned to them.

Touring

Also, last year November, when the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Themba Masuku, was touring some areas where homesteads had been destroyed by the hailstorm on November 5, 2021, he was chauffeured in a Toyota Fortuner. Officially, he is assigned two Mercedes-Benz vehicles which include a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and a sedan. Worth noting is that, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of ICT, Maxwell Masuku, informed this publication that he was the one who made the recommendation that the minister should continue using the rented vehicle, taking into account her safety in the mist of the political turmoil. “The Inkhosatana’s car did not arrive with the first batch but the second one. By the time it arrived, I considered that it was risky to use that car for her own safety since there were prevalent protests around June/July,” he said.

While explaining to our sister publication, Masuku said the minister had already collected her allocation of the Prado and returned the Lexus back to Capital Car Hire. He confirmed that this was done two days after the fire that gutted over E3 million worth of government property at the government garage. Our sister publication had also asked how much government had spent on the hired car and his response was ‘why is it necessary for us to say how much we have spent on it?’ Masuku was quoted as having explained that the fuel consumption of the Prado and the Lexus sedan could not have differed significantly. The PS said in light of this, using the sedan may have saved government some costs.

Masuku also said government made savings in respect of the costs of servicing the hired vehicle, in that, when it was due for service, it was taken back to its owners who were responsible for the service and not the state. He supposed that during the same period, if the minister had been using the Toyota Prado allocated,the servicing costs would have been incurred by the State. “Had she been using the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX, it would have been serviced at a cost to the State,” he said. In the wake of a dispute between government and the CTA over the parastatal’s trading account, ministries had been given a mandate to hire cars, instead of relying on the Central Pool, a division of CTA, to hire on their behalf.

leave

Princess Sikhanyiso is not new to controversy as she went on a prolonged sick leave between 2019 and 2021, which was said to have allegedly cost the taxpayer about E500 000. When tax payers complained that paying her a salary while she was away on a prolonged leave was wrong, she said she had paid back the money. She revealed that the maternity leave had been prolonged because of complications during child birth.

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