At the Umdoni Finance Portfolio Committee meeting held on Tuesday, May 15, the issue of potentially fraudulent travel claims submitted by councillors, was revealed.
The frequent whispers in the corridors, of councillor’s unwarranted travel claims became the subject of a full-blown discussion when the usually affable Councillor Khan of Al Jama’ Ah, raised the matter.
He stated that a travel claim had been paid to a councillor although that councillor had not attended that particular meeting.
Councillor Khan informed the committee meeting that he had checked with the councillor concerned, who had confirmed that he was not present at that meeting.
Pursuing the matter from an administrative perspective, Councillor Khan asked if the municipal officials intended rectifying the errors which he had identified in his report.
It was then the turn of the unrelenting Councillor Shara Singh of the Democratic Alliance, who was emphatic that such a payment was tantamount to fraud and should be investigated and the money recovered.
Referring to reports presented, she also raised other concerns regarding inflated kilometerages of 290 km and 320 km to places such as Durbanand Oslo Beach. “These mind-boggling figures had been accepted and paid for,” said Councillor Singh.
The mayor, who chaired the meeting, stated that perhaps Council should re-assess the policy regarding travel claims.
He was reminded that the policy had been recently discussed at a workshop but had not been submitted to Council for approval. He suggested that a copy of the attendance register should be attached to the claims.
“How do we stop this?” asked the mayor.
Councillor Edwin Baptie of the Democratic Alliance responded, “It is easy Mr Mayor. Don’t sign off on the claims submitted to you. The buck stops with you. There’s nothing wrong with the existing policy, it is a failure in implementation that is bugging us.”
“How are we going to confirm the kilometerage?” asked the mayor.
Councillor Singh replied that it was easy to confirm mileage from Scottburgh to Durban or to Oslo Beach by merely googling the map to these places.
The acting municipal manager, Mr B A Xulu, in response, stated that monies incorrectly paid are council monies and must be recovered.
The mayor appeared to be relieved when he could move to the next item on the agenda. It took some time to expose this mini “travelgate” at Umdoni.
It is not just a policy transgression, but a theft of public monies and opposition councillors must be commended for their effective oversight, even if it meant stirring up a hornets’ nest.
Claiming excessive amounts for the use of private vehicles for municipal business is not entirely new.
About two decades ago a councillor was charged with fraud for inflating a travel claim.
In that matter the court ruled that it was an administrative error, rather than fraud, and the councillor was acquitted.