Minister of Transport on Voluntary Return of Gift
19 May 2009
Present: Minister of Transport, S’bu Ndebele; Ms Mpumi Mpofu, Director-General: Department of Transport
The Minister of Transport, S’bu Ndebele, reported that after careful consideration of the matter he had decided to voluntarily return the S500 Mercedes Benz and the two cattle received from Vukuzakhe Emerging Contractors Association in KwaZulu-Natal at a function held in Pietermaritzburg on 16 May 2009. This was in accordance with the provisions of the Executive Code of Ethics. He pointed out that he had never solicited them nor ever expected the gift. The Minister apprised the media of the history of his involvement with the Vukuzakhe Emerging Contractors Association and the circumstances leading up to the presentation of the gift. He now suggested that they dispose of this gift valued at about R1m, and the benefits go to those participating in the emerging contractor programmes through the Construction Industry Development Board. They could establish a training fund to assist emerging contractors in the country through programmes such as the Contractor Growth Development Programme. The Minister emphasised that the focus should be on the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup as well as on the infrastructure development at airports, roads and the rail sector, road traffic management and the Bus Rapid Transport System. The Minister was accompanied by Ms Mpumi Mpofu, Director-General: Department of Transport.
Q: The Minister was asked if he could clarify whether the President asked him to return the gift or if this was something he had decided to do in contradiction of the President and the Party.
A: The Minister responded that the President had advised him to follow the Code of Ethics, which stipulated that gifts should be declared with 30 days. He discussed his personal view with the President – which was that the gift should be returned.
Q: A journalist asked the Minister why he felt that he ought to hand back the gift.
A: The Minister responded that the media attention given to this matter would be an unwelcome distraction from his work and draw attention away from matters such as the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS), the taxi industry and the upcoming Confederations Cup.
Q: The media asked if the Minister was concerned about the perception that would be created if he had kept the vehicle.
A: The Minister responded that there would be no conflict of interest because he would not be granting any contracts to emerging contractors in
Q: The journalist redirected the question, referring specifically to the Minister’s concern about the perception created if he had kept the vehicle.
A: The Minister referred to the gift awarded to ex-President Nelson Mandela by Mercedes Benz, followed by a gift from BMW. He could think of no way in which these gifts had influenced him or his government.
Q: A journalist asked if the Minister had felt, at any point, as if he deserved this gift. The journalist was also unsure as to why such a gift had been offered to begin with.
A: The Minister referred to his work in the stabilising of the
Q: A journalist wondered if President Zuma had advised him to keep the car saying that this would be acceptable as long as it was properly declared.
A: The Minister responded that there was a lack of precedent on the matter and the leadership had advised him to follow the law. The law stipulated that gifts be declared to the President and Parliament.
Q: The journalist responded that according to the Code of Ethics, members had to ask permission to keep gifts over the value of R1000.
A: The Minister responded that the President had advised him that there was nothing wrong with keeping the gift as long as it was properly declared.
Q: The media noted that 72 hours was quite a long time to reach a decision on the matter. He expressed the opinion that it was wholly inappropriate for a Minister to receive a gift of that value, particularly when he was associated with transport. The Minister was asked what had caused the delay.
A: The Minister responded that a sense of fairness was called for. If one was of the opinion that a long time was taken to resolve the matter, it should be noted that the law allowed 60 days. This was resolved within 60 hours and surely this was an acceptable timeframe. The time taken included time spent travelling (
Q: The journalist responded that such a gift should have been rejected when it was given.
A: The Minister responded that the culture of the majority of the people in
Q: The Minister was asked if he had envisaged such a media “hullabaloo” when he was first presented with the gift. Did it occur to him that people would think that these emerging contractors were likely to be given tenders?
A: The Minister asked the press to picture the event where the gift had been presented – a marquee filled to capacity with 5000 emerging contractors. It would have been insulting to reject the gift at the event. He stressed that success had been achieved with the emerging contractors programme. They should continue making these gains, using the proceeds of the sale of the vehicle. These funds could be used for training young contractors.
Q: A journalist asked if the Minister would have accepted the gift, if he had already retired from the political arena. He was asked if he would have consulted the President in this instance.
A: The Minister felt that the question had been answered by the journalist.
Q: The media asked the Minster to clarify the main reason for returning the gift. He was also asked if he would have liked to have kept the car.
A: The Minister responded that he was not compelled to return the gift. He was guided by the Code of Ethics of Parliament and Cabinet and what the President and Office Bearers said and this had been that there was nothing was wrong with it. However, he preferred to return the gift, as it was less hassle. He added that the Department of Transport had a very good car scheme through which he could be provided with a car similar in value to the gift.
Q: A journalist asked if there was any sense that it was ethical to return the gift or that it was a bad practice for Ministers to receive these kinds of gifts. Would he like his actions to become the benchmark for appropriate behaviour in future?
A: The Minister responded that ex President Mandela had received a Mercedes Benz and a BMW, both of which were not returned and he was not aware of a bad example being set during his term as President.
Q: A reporter asked if the car and the two head of cattle were all the gift entailed as there were additional reports of a plasma screen, petrol vouchers and other items being included in the gift package.
Q: A journalist pointed out that there was the perception that it was essentially wrong for a person in his position to accept a gift like this because of the message that it sent. What were his thoughts on this aspect?
A: The Minister responded that the value of the experience has been to clarify what constitutes an appropriate gift. Cattle were quite common as a gift in
Q: The Minister was asked if he was keeping the cattle and other items received as part of the gift.
A: The Minister replied that he had also received a plasma screen and petrol vouchers. The latter accompanied the car. All the items received, including the cattle had been returned. He concluded by stating that he had thus far had a good run in government. His name was all he had and he did not want to mess with that.
The media briefing was concluded.
MEDIA STATEMENT BY MINISTER SIBUSISO NDEBELE ON THE VOLUNTARY RETURNING OF THE GIFT RECEIVED FROM VUKUZAKHE EMERGING CONTRACTORS
19 May 2009
The recent public discussion around the S500 Mercedes Benz, valued at more than R1 million, that I received as a gift from Vukuzakhe emerging contractors last Saturday, 16 May 2009, refers.
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 from Vukuzakhe emerging contractors in
I must emphasize, I never knew about these gifts, never solicited them and never expected them. In addition, when this whole function was mooted by the emerging contractors, nobody knew where I was going or whether I would be appointed Minister of Transport. I would also want to state that we do not have any personal or private financial or business interest with the Vukuzakhe emerging contractor programme which would constitute any conflict of interest on our part. In addition, 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.
I was appointed MEC for Transport in
I was MEC for Transport from 1994 to 2004. From 2004, I assumed the Premiership of KwaZulu-Natal, an office I held until the 5th of May 2009.
Over the last few months, I have been congratulated by several individuals and organisations for my contribution as both MEC for Transport as well as Premier. Among the people who congratulated us and acknowledged the work we did as part of the government of the province of KwaZulu-Natal were the emerging contractors, who benefited from the Vukuzakhe programme I was associated with when still MEC for Transport from 1994 to 2004.
The Vukuzakhe contractors approached me before the 2009 elections and sought a date where they could hold a function in my honour. I did advise them that I would prefer such an occasion to be held after the elections as we were all busy with the election campaign programme.
After the elections, they approached me again and I gave them the date of 16 May 2009. I attended the function on 16 May, with my wife, which was held at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg. I was really shocked when they presented me with an S500 Mercedes Benz valued at about R1 million. In addition, some taxi operators who had apparently asked to also participate in the programme gave us two cattle.
To this end, I sought guidance from The Presidency, the Secretary of Cabinet as well as the Secretary-General of the African National Congress as I could not find precedence relating to how one can handle a gift of such magnitude.
I am aware that there is a process in government of handling gifts and conflicts of interest which is as follows:
On conflict of interest, Clause 3 of the Executive Code of Ethics requires a member to declare any personal or private financial or business interest that the member may have in a matter that is before the Cabinet, Cabinet Committee or in relation to which the member is required to take a decision. In addition, a member must withdraw from proceedings of Cabinet or Cabinet Committee considering a matter in which a member has any personal or private or business interest, unless the President decides that the Member’s interest is trivial or not relevant.
On gifts, Clause 4 of the Code prohibits a member from soliciting or accepting a gift or benefit which is in return for favours received from the member in his or her official capacity or constitutes improper influence on the member or constitutes an attempt to influence a member in the performance of the Member’s duties. Clause 4.2 states that when a member, in the course of the Member’s duties, has received or has been offered a gift with a value of more than R1000, the Member must request permission from the President to retain or accept the gift. If the permission is granted, the member may retain or accept the gift, but must disclose particulars thereof (in terms of financial disclosure procedures of the Code). Where such permission has not been requested or granted the member must either return the gift or decline the offer or donate the gift to the State.
On Monday the 18th at 11am, within hours of the first working day after the presentation of the gift, I sent a letter to the President of South Africa (as required by Clause 4.2 of the Executive Ethics Code) and the Secretary General of the ANC.
I advised his Excellency, the President, that I have received the gift of an S500 Mercedes Benz valued at R1 million and two cattle from Vukuzakhe emerging contractors in
After consultation with the President of South African and the Political Office Bearers of my political party, the ANC, who advise me to follow the procedures stipulated and after due consideration, I have, nevertheless, decided to return the gift to the Vukuzakhe programme. I have suggested that they dispose of this gift valued at about R1m, for the benefit of others participating in the emerging contractors programmes through the Construction Industry Development Board, establish a training fund to assist other emerging contractors in the country through programmes such as the Contractor Growth Development Programme.
I must indicate that this matter has created an unwelcome interruption and derailment of my programme as a newly appointed Minister of Transport, as I have urgent matters in my portfolio to deal with. The Executive Code of Ethics provide for disclosure to be made within 60 days and I since the gift was first revealed to me , have taken about 72 hours to bring the matter to an end. With preparations for the FIFA Confederation Cup which is to be held in twenty six days in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg we have key to focus on ensuring this dry run for the 2010 FIFA World Cup is successful as well as the Infrastructure development at airports, roads and the rail sector, Road Traffic Management and further reducing the carnage on our roads and indeed other transport priorities.
On the Bus Rapid Transit System, I have been briefed on the matter and will this afternoon be meeting the political leadership and teams of the BRT implementing cities of
I thank you
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