National

Chauke cries 'conspiracy' on credit card claim

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Officials say finance watchdog Scopa chair Hlomane Chauke ran up a fortune on a credit card he wasn't entitled to use.

Hlomane Chauke, Scopa chair in North West. (David Harrison, M&G)

Hlomane Chauke, the chairperson of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) in North West, is accused of preaching financial accountability when he himself has failed to account for the use of a government credit card when he was MEC for sports, arts and culture between 2010 and 2012.

The provincial department of sport, arts and culture is demanding a reimbursement of R243 000 it says he cannot account for.

Chauke, whose committee has put a spotlight on poor financial accountability in the province, failed to convince the sport department that the hotel stays and entertainment he financed with the departmental credit card were for work purposes.

He is also accused of using the same credit card for two weeks after he was no longer an MEC, to the tune of R18 077. The bank was only ordered by the sport department to stop the credit card in June, just over a month after Chauke was moved.

He is now a member of the provincial legislature.

Outstanding amount
The Mail & Guardian has seen communication between the sport department and the legislature in which the department is seeking intervention to recoup the money from Chauke.

"The MEC still owes receipts for an amount of R224 702.54, which was the closing balance as at 31 March 2012 and receipts were not submitted to clear it prior to the financial year end," one letter from the department's chief financial officer reads.

"The debt in the former MEC's name has been raised in the books of the department, and the amount must be recovered since the debtor is still in the employment of the state. Several attempts including letters to the legislature have been persuaded to collect the debt, but to date no positive response has come forth."

The sport department has even asked the legislature to "deduct [the money] from Mr Chauke's salary".

Chauke this week told the M&G that no one has asked him to pay any money back in connection with the credit card he used as an MEC.

"I accounted, I have not been approached by anyone between the MEC for sport, the premier and the speaker of legislature to say, you owe money and you must pay," he said.

"My department was audited by the auditor general of South Africa. Financial management of my office was up to scratch."

Political conspiracy
Chauke implied there was a political conspiracy against him and threatened to call a press conference next Tuesday to talk about "all these attacks against me. I know where they are coming from."

"I know this is nothing else but politics. This thing comes from the fact that nothing has happened since the premier ordered a forensic investigation into the sport department and found nothing that accused me of wrongdoing."

He said it was "new information" to him that there had been written communication between the sport department and the legislature about claiming the "missing" funds.

The credit card limit for MECs is R35 000 a month, but can be increased by the finance MEC if a written request is submitted.

The cards are issued for official purposes such as travel, subsistence and entertainment. According to the North West provincial treasury directive, an MEC who abuses a credit card should be reported to that province's finance MEC and the premier.  

Uncertain recovery
It's not clear what other steps the North West sport department took to try to recover the money. The department refused to respond to the M&G's questions.

"Mr Chauke MPL's matter is not in the hands of the department," said spokesperson Shirley Montsho.

"The department is therefore not in the position to respond to your enquiry, but refer you to the legislature for further response and clarification."

The sport department failed to answer questions about how Chauke's debt on the credit card was allowed to accumulate to the extent it had and why he was allowed to continue using the card without submitting receipts for an extended period.

The department also did not want to answer to a possible neglect of duties by those who run its finances, who failed to take Chauke to task when he was still MEC – and when he was not – and block the card.


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