THE Eastern Cape Health Department has fallen prey to large-scale petrol card scams operating across the province.
The scams have already cost the cash-strapped department hundreds of thousands of rands in fraudulent petrol card transactions. Officials and clinical staff started abusing the petrol cards after the Transport Department took over the provincial government's R450-million fleet management service.
The previous fleet contract was left to expire in February to cut costs on the 2700 vehicles used by government departments. But, the health authority has already seen a 24% increase in petrol consumption since the Transport Department took charge of the fleet.
The fraud and corruption stem from the Transport Department dropping the automated fuelling system and opting for petrol cards.
It is believed the petrol card scams take place across all government departments.
According to an "early warning report" from the petrol card supplier to the Health Department:
- Petrol purchased for the vehicles is often higher than the tank's capacity and a select number of service stations are being used in this scam;
- Cancelled petrol cards are still being used;
- Corrupt officials swipe the petrol card but instead fill up their private vehicles; and
- In some cases, vehicles are being repeatedly filled up despite short distances being travelled – sometimes less than 100km.
Petrol cards are being cloned and some service stations even process manual transactions without seeing the cards, according to the report.
The petrol cards used by the Health Department are for ambulances, rescue cars and administration vehicles. This abuse comes after the Health Department, which employs 47000 people, announced corruption had cost the department R1-billion from January 2009 to February this year.
The department has vowed to take harsh action against officials abusing petrol cards. Superintendent-general Siva Pillay warned that officials found guilty would face criminal charges.
He said the fleet management system was the cause of the misuse and abuse of petrol cards.
"Since the introduction of the new system, numerous allegations of abuse of cards have been received by the department," he said.
Pillay said even the petrol cards of damaged and out of service vehicles were being swiped at petrol stations. "The department is busy with investigations, and action will be taken against all perpetrators," he said.
Transport spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca admitted the fleet management service was facing a challenge with vehicle and petrol card abuse.
"The petrol cards are a temporary arrangement and as soon as we complete the reregistration process of all provincial government vehicles we will go back to the automated [fuelling] system."
Kumbaca encouraged the public and other government officials to report the abuse of petrol cards. "The Department of Health is one of the most problematic departments but we are tightening the control of petrol cards," he said.
DA shadow MEC for health and MPL John Cupido called for public protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the rampant abuse of petrol cards in the department. "The department needs to get rid of this rot," he said.
COPE health spokesman and MPL Nkosinathi Kuluta said: "Bhisho can't even manage a simple thing like petrol cards ... it is a disgrace.
"Heads must roll," he said.
To report petrol card abuse by a government official contact 0800644644.