‘Ziwaphi report, a complete fabrication of facts’ – Mpumalanga speaker

Mpumalanga legislature speaker Blessing Thandi Shongwe. PICTURE BY MfisoDIGITAL

A local newspaper report detailing the use of R3m to purchase two Mercedes Benz SUVs for the Mpumalanga legislature speaker has been labelled as complete fabrication and misleading the public.

The speaker of the Mpumalanga legislature responded to what she said was “deliberate manufacturing of information intent at misleading and creating wrong impression” after the Ziwaphi newspaper looked at the purchase of the two state-of-the-art vehicles.

The Ziwaphi newspaper this week reported that an amount of R3 million was used in the purchase of two German SUV’s for Mpumalanga legislature speaker Thandi Shongwe.

The paper said the purchase of the silver Mercedes Benz GLE 500 was adding on top of another state-of-the-art vehicle, a Mercedes Benz ML 500 for Shongwe’s use, which it alleged was still in Shongwe’s possession.

Shongwe, who is also a member of the provincial executive committee of the ANC and its women’s wing structure in the Mpumalanga province, was elected the speaker of the legislature following the general elections of 2014.

Soon after the 2014 general elections, the purchase for the brand new iridium silver ML 500 costing R1.2m for the speaker was approved by then legislature secretary Josiah Silinda. But when this car got involved in a road accident a year ago, newly appointed legislature secretary Linda Mwale approved the purchase of the other – a Mercedes Benz GLE 500, costing R1.5m.

Both cars are iridium silver in colour.

STATE-OF-THE-ART: The speakers new Merc GLE 500. Pictured here at the Mpumalanga provincial disaster management building.
STATE-OF-THE-ART: The speakers new Merc GLE 500. Pictured here at the Mpumalanga provincial disaster management building.

An insider within the legislature quoted in the local investigative weekly said however “that the accident that the vehicle had been involved in caused minor scratches to the vehicle. He also disclosed that few people in the legislature were aware that the speaker had purchased a new vehicle.”

“The insider also disclosed that the vehicle that was bought in 2014 was being kept at the house of the speaker, even though in terms of the asset register, the vehicle is located at the legislature premises,” the paper reported.

The reason most people in the legislature have not been aware Shongwe had bought another SUV on top of the one she bought in 2014 was because both cars were SUVs and were both iridium silver in colour.

READ: Nkangala district municipal manager Margaret Skosana applauded for scooping two awards

Only people in the legislature finance, the secretary and the speaker were aware of the new purchase“ and everyone else has been fooled into believing that she was still driving the vehicle that was bought in 2014,” the paper said, and that the reason the 2014 vehicle was not kept in the legislature premises “was to conceal it from members of the opposition”.

“If they saw that there were two vehicles [in the speaker’s reserved parking] they’d start asking questions,” the insider told the investigative weekly.

“Even Premier David Mabuza doesn’t know the speaker bought a new vehicle, they all think it’s the same vehicle because it’s the same colour,” the source said.

But in an apparent right to reply to the allegations, which was published by the paper on Friday morning, Shongwe’s office described the report as “absolutely incorrect and distortion of facts”.

“It is deliberate manufacturing of information intent at misleading and creating wrong impression as there is no truth to suggest there was an instruction to purchase similar vehicle,” legislature spokeswoman Zama Gamede said in the reply.

“It is clear even in the report that the two vehicles are distinct as one vehicle is an ML whereas the other is a GL,” she said on behalf of Shongwe.

“Both the reporter of Ziwaphi, Mr Tom Nkosi, as the former employee of the legislature and the anonymous informer, who also seems to be an employee of the legislature, should know better about the separation of powers. The legislature is a distinct organ, as such the financial resource requirements are sourced through the office of the treasury. [Therefore] it is true that the Premier is not aware of the purchase of assets by the Mpumalanga provincial legislature because of the separation of powers,” she said.

Gamede said it was a lie and malicious reporting to suggest that an amount of three million rand was spent to purchase the vehicles of the speaker.

“The purchase price of the two vehicles is not even exceeding R2.3m,” she said.

LATEST: ANC removes ‘unpopular’ Delmas councillor, to call Sunday meeting for community members to choose their own

Gamede said it was not true that the 2014 Merc sustained minor damages – that there was no need to purchase a new one because “the assessment report from the Union Motors panel beaters indicated severe damages to the car which had also impacted on the safety features of the vehicle”.

She said the 12 months period that the 2014 vehicle had spent with the panel beaters showed the car had serious damages and that it was “absolutely incorrect and a distortion of facts to suggest the accident had resulted in minor damages”.

“Based on the assessment report, the security management unit of the Mpumalanga legislature advised that it was clearly risky to continue using the vehicle for the official business of the speaker. The unit advised that a new vehicle for the speaker be purchased, hence the decision to procure a new vehicle in 2015 was approved,” Gamede said.

Gamede said on return from the panel beaters the vehicle never parked at Shongwe’s home, “has been parked at the government building” in Riverside.

“Both vehicles are in the asset register of the legislature and the office of the auditor verified and confirmed the existence of the vehicles during the conducting of the audit in March 2016.

“Due to the impact as a result of the accidents which compromised the safety features of the vehicle, the security manager advised that the [2014] vehicle [is no longer] suitable for use by the speaker.

“The vehicle will be disposed off when the legislature disposes assets during the course of the 2016/17 financial year,”” added Gamede.

(reported by ZK/edited by MLM)

Send tips to editor@013.co.za