I am actually saving the department money: KZN education MEC accused of car rental 'scam'
KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu on Monday refuted claims that he splurged hundreds of thousands of rands of taxpayers’ money on car hire since coming into office in May.
In a statement, Mshengu said he had actually saved the department money.
SowetanLIVE's sister publication Sunday Times reported that Mshengu had apparently refused to use a car belonging to his predecessor, a political rival, and had been using a rental car instead.
“The narrative created that I do not want to use the department’s vehicle merely because it was used by the former MEC is nothing but a figment of imagination advanced to achieve the purpose of projecting me as an irresponsible and extravagant MEC,” Mshengu said.
“I am using most of the things that I have inherited when I assumed office. These include both offices and all the furniture in those offices. Over and above, I elected to keep 50% of the staff complement in the ministry — which I had no obligation to, as per the Ministerial Handbook.
“If it is true that I have issues with the former MEC, I would have initiated a clean sweep in the department,” he said.
While Mshengu admitted using a rental car, he said this was not of his own doing.
“When I assumed responsibility as the MEC, I was allocated a hired car the following day. This because the department’s official car was still in legitimate use by the former MEC. When the car was officially returned to the department, I was then advised that it was not roadworthy and needed mechanical assessment.
“In the meantime, I offered to use my private car, but I was advised against this because it would cost more money for the department. To illustrate this point, my car has an engine capacity of 3.5 litres. In the month of September 2019, I travelled over 8,000km, which I would have been entitled to claim from the department. Given the tariffs applicable and rounding off the kilometres to 8,000, it means I would have been entitled to claim from the department an amount of R154,488 which is higher than hiring a car,” he said.
Mshengu maintained that he was advised that using the former MEC’s “unroadworthy” vehicle could have resulted in fatalities.
In its report, the Sunday Times said that Mshengu was part of an elaborate scam which saw his office being in possession of a fraudulent letter from a Mercedes-Benz dealership, which advised him against making use of his predecessor's car.
The publication, however, said that after showing the letter to Mercedes-Benz SA, the company said: “We can confirm that the letter referred to was not authorised by Mercedes-Benz or any of its agents.”
On this, Mshengu said: “I personally have never interacted with the dealership or with junior officials in the department involved in security and transport unit from the department.
“I have always interacted with the head of department of education in KwaZulu-Natal, who in turn interact with other officials in the department regarding this matter. I have never seen any form of communication between the department and the dealership, save to be briefed through the HOD that there is internal communication between the two parties on the status of the department’s vehicle,” he said.
Mshengu said he would not have known nor been part of the so-called “scam”.
“I have since requested the HOD to investigate this matter and where wrongdoing is found, necessary action will be taken,” he said.
He insisted that he had been championing saving the department money. In a bid to lead by example, he said he had forsaken certain fringe benefits, including that of a domestic worker, garden service and security upgrades.
“I have elected to forsake these benefits because I do hold a view that they are within my means and therefore what should have been spent towards such should be directed to assisting a learner in the classroom,” he said.