Minister to return Mercedes Benz

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cape Town - Minister of Transport Sibusiso Ndebele has announced that he will voluntarily return the Mercedes Benz S500 and other items he received as a gift from the Vukuzakhe emerging contractors.

"I wish to announce that after careful consideration of this matter and in discussions with my family, I have decided to voluntarily return the S500 Mercedes Benz and the two cattle that I received," said Mr Ndebele in a media briefing in Pretoria, on Tuesday.

The minister was presented with a car, two cattle, a plasma screen television and petrol vouchers among other gifts at a farewell party hosted by Vukuzakhe emerging contractors in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

However, the gifts could have amounted to a conflict of interest for the newly-elected minister, as per public service regulations.

Mr Ndebele, who described the gifts as an "unwelcome destruction", said they were not solicited and he had never expected them. He emphasised that they were planned before he was named minister.

He further explained that the vehicle did not constitute a conflict of interest because the present was to honour him as the former KwaZulu-Natal Premier for creating a platform for small contractors in the province.

Vukuzakhe, an emerging contractors' programme for road construction, was established in 1996 when Mr Ndebele was MEC for Transport. He later became Premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

"Nobody knew where I was going or whether I would be appointed Minister of Transport."

Mr Ndebele also stated that he did not have any personal or private financial or business interest with the Vukuzakhe emerging contractors programme which would constitute any conflict of interest on his part.

"We have not solicited or accepted a gift or benefit that is in return for any official favours from us or been in anyway improperly influenced by any gift that may have been given to us."

Minister Ndebele said he informed President Jacob Zuma and the Political Office Bearers of the ANC about the gifts who advised him to follow the procedures stipulated in the code of conduct and return the gifts.

According to the executive code of ethics, the President decides whether or not a cabinet minister may keep a gift exceeding R1000 while in the public service.

If it is granted, the gift must be disclosed in a register but if it is refused, then one will either have to return it or surrender it to the State.

The minister has suggested that Vukuzakhe contractors dispose of the gifts for the benefit of others participating in the emerging contractors programmes through the Construction Industry Development Board.

He told the media that he has suggested that the company establish a training fund to assist other emerging contractors in the country through programmes such as the Contractor Growth Development Programme.