Monday, September 07, 2009

Blade's BMW 730i and the struggle against corruption

Stanley Uys on the SACP leader's choice of a R1,1m ministerial vehicle

Viva Communism Comrade Blade! Viva BMW!
The drunken judge, Blade's BMW and the white refugee

Blade Nzimande, minister of Higher Education and Training in the President's newish 34-member cabinet, "does not condone wasteful expenditure under any circumstances and stands firm in his condemnation of greed, corruption and selfishness in society". This assurance comes in written form from the department itself to explain why Nzimande has bought (at taxpayers' expense) a R1.1million (£86,000) 730 series BMW.

The official statement makes the further point that as a leader of the South African Communist Party (its general secretary), "Blade is opposed to any form of unnecessary extravagance and is acutely mindful of the current recession and its impact on the workers and poor of the country".

Why the department should note Nzimande's high ranking in the SACP is not clear. It appears to see the SACP as standing a moral notch or two above the other political parties. More important, what has a departmental spokesman got to do with the SACP? Is this how the division between state and party continues to blur?

The tortuous explanation offered by the spokesman, Ranjeni Munusamy, was that the department was concerned over the high cost of renting a vehicle and decided that instead one should be purchased in line with ministerial guidelines. The car is not the property of the Minister. It was bought by the Department for ministerial use on official duties within the regulations and in line with the VIP Protection Unit security considerations. It was already on the showroom floor with "all its extras."

Waiting for a new vehicle to be manufactured could have taken up to six months, so "the department accepted the offer of the dealership to take the showroom vehicle ‘as is' at a discount price. Therefore, neither Nzimande nor the department ordered the extra features. Nzimande accepted the vehicle voetstoots - what-you-see-is-what-you-get. This is humility of the most admirable kind.

The department explains further that it has not acquired a second vehicle in Cape Town for Nzimande's use. Currently, he uses a hired car, while the vehicle used by the former Minister of Education is being repaired. The ministry "supports the cabinet process on cost-cutting and will fully implement those measures once they are finalized". Self-denial like this brings a fleeting tear to the eye.

The phrasing of the official "explanation" suggests the department expected critical comment, and it duly arrived. Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, was quick to rubbish what he saw as a "flawed system of ministerial perks and packages," especially for a ruling party campaigning on a pro-poor ticket.

I suspect Holomisa was thinking of his military days in the Transkei Bantustan, and had his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek, when he exclaimed: "It simply doesn't make sense when a person claims they're spending R1 million on a car for security reasons, but it isn't even bulletproof...The system that is used by responsible countries is to acquire a pool of state vehicles that are standardised. It also means that the state can make a bulk acquisition, which would enable it to get the vehicles at a discounted rate.

"The vehicles must have a standardised colour scheme and bear the ministerial logo, as well as the South African flag (like official vehicles in other countries). No elected official of the state should be shy of being seen in a car bearing the South African flag". (Are some officials ashamed of the SA flag?). Nor should official cars be used "for personal holidays or to go to party political rallies - if ministers want fancy cars they must pay from their own pockets".

"The state can allocate a state registration plate for these vehicles, such as RSA 1 for the President, RSA 2 for the Deputy President etc. Once the public can recognise these vehicles they would give way on the road, which would also reduce the abuse of the blue-light brigades.").

Finding a ranking number for Nzimande would put the cat among the pigeons, especially at the private schools, where one schoolboy could well taunt another: My dad is ranked RSA 25 and yours only RSA 31. You're off my birthday party list!

Scarcely a day passes now without the media revealing extravagance, wastefulness, political rallies on taxpayers' money, and, yes, corruption in department after department. No one is accusing Blade of corruption (although there was that funny business about R500,000 in notes in a black bag that went missing, or not).

To affirm his anti-corruption credentials, Blade in a considered statement last month declared: "The SACP needs to intensify the struggle against corruption, both inside and outside the state. Fighting corruption is not merely a moral crusade...Fighting corruption must be a principal political struggle...The Central Committee will consider practical ways through which we can mobilise the workers and the poor of our country to take the struggle against corruption to higher levels."

It is difficult to see what Blade's problem is in taking workers and the poor to see for themselves what happens at the higher levels of corruption? Give them a lift in a BMW 730 series. It's no skin off Blade's nose. Departmentally, his record is clean.

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