SACP, Cosatu deny rift over Blade's car

There is no rift between the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) over the issue of ministerial cars, the organisations said on Tuesday.

“The SACP and Cosatu wish to dismiss reports of a supposed rift between our two organisations stemming from Cosatu’s views on the issue of the procurement of ministerial vehicles,” said the organisations in a joint statement.

The organisations refuted media reports that they said suggested Cosatu’s view—that vehicles worth more than R1-million should be returned—meant Cosatu had “turned” on SACP general secretary and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

The organisations said their “fraternal bonds” had withstood time and many testing issues.

“The strength of our relationship allows for open engagement and the holding of different views from time to time.”

On Monday, union federation Cosatu urged ministers who bought cars for R1-million or more to trade them in for more modest transport.

It said while it was true that those who purchased top-of-the-range BMWs had acted within the government rules, they had also displayed great insensitivity to the plight of South Africa’s poor.

“Spending so much money on vehicles is a slap in the face of the unemployed and people living in shantytowns. It gives politics a bad name.”

Cosatu said the ministerial rules pertaining to such purchases were contained in an “apartheid-era handbook” that needed to be changed.

Cabinet members who have purchased luxury BMWs include Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Nzimande.

Nzimande’s purchase of a BMW 750i for R1,1-million prompted Democratic Alliance MP Wilmot James to quip: “It appears that only the very best will do for the leaders of the working class.”

In reaction to Cosatu’s call, the SACP defended Nzimande’s choice of car and said he would never betray his political ideals for luxury.

“We reject the notion that the general secretary would himself indulge on extravagance and betray the ideals for which he stands,” the organisation said at the time.

The government recently ordered a spending review that it acknowledged was prompted by public outrage over the cost of ministerial cars.

According to government rules, ministers are entitled to a state-purchased car of a value equivalent to 70% of their annual salary. This equates to roughly R929 000.

On Tuesday, Cosatu and the SACP said while they accepted that the purchase of the vehicles was handled by officials in the Department of Higher Education and Training, “Nzimande in his capacity as minister should have taken a more hands-on approach to ensure a more cost-effective procurement”.

The organisations said they accepted that any vehicle purchased for Nzimande had to take into account his VIP protection security requirements.

“Comrade Blade has already expressed regret for any offence caused by this matter and Cosatu accepts this apology.”

The organisations said they would await a response from Cabinet regarding the vehicles.

“Cosatu and the SACP will continue to work together in assisting our government to improve control over government expenditure.”

‘Opportunistic’
Also on Tuesday, the Communications Ministry said it rejected Cosatu’s statement that sought to “vilify” politicians who purchased vehicles for official duties.

The ministry said no rules were broken when it purchased Nyanda’s vehicle.

“We therefore find it opportunistic for Cosatu to turn a blind eye to all these facts and rather embark on a tirade in a bid to cast aspersions over the minister of communications’ conscience.”

The ministry said it was absurd for Cosatu to suggest the minister should return his vehicle.

“These vehicles are not personal possessions of the minister, but have been secured only to aid him in meeting his obligations to the Republic.”

The ministry said the claim that the ministerial handbook was a product of apartheid was “reckless”

“For the record, the current Ministerial Handbook was reviewed and approved by Cabinet on February 7 2007, 13 years into freedom and democracy.”—Sapa

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