Pretoria - The mayor of a cash-strapped Limpopo municipality is facing charges of fraud after allegedly claiming more than R20 000 in travel allowances even though she had used a state-owned vehicle for the trips undertaken.
Modimolle-Mookgophong mayor Marlene van Staden claimed for a travel allowance in three batches during the 2019/2020 financial year, according to official documents seen by the Pretoria News, including her salary advice and the municipality’s travel allowance payment records.
The municipality is one of the poorest in the country and has battled to provide basic services such as water in recent years, prompting community protests. The Limpopo government put it under administration in 2018 after it was marred by allegations of financial mismanagement. According to a Government Gazette of April 24, 2020, municipal officials are not allowed to claim for travel expenses while using a municipal vehicle.
It reads: “If a councillor uses a municipal-owned motor vehicle for official purposes, such councillor will not be reimbursed for kilometres travelled.”
However, Modimolle-Mookgophong municipal records show that Van Staden claimed R2 515.70 for travel allowances in March, R3 837.70 in October and R13 780.08 in December last year.
Her salary advice reveals that ratepayers did reimburse her for the claimed travel expenses.
Van Staden, who became one of the youngest mayors in the country when she took over in a DA-led coalition of opposition parties after the 2016 local government elections, has denied any wrongdoing. The municipality was one of the two municipalities in Limpopo controlled by a DA, EFF and FF Plus coalition after the last local government polls.
“I have said it before and I'm saying it again – I do not claim for petrol. I’m honestly not that stupid. And if you want to see what my miscellaneous claims were for, make an appointment with my secretary. We have a file with the proof of every document from 2016 to date,” Van Staden said in a text message to the Pretoria News on Sunday.
She then invited the journalist to a meeting yesterday to see the proof and discuss the matter. However, Van Staden failed to answer her phone when the Pretoria News made a follow-up call to see the evidence. She later said she had been in a meeting. The Pretoria News has reliably learnt that charges of fraud against Van Staden have been laid by businessman Ranger Senong. He could not be reached for comment.
Limpopo Hawks spokesperson Captain Matimba Maluleke confirmed that the elite crime-busting unit had investigated fraud charges against Van Staden in 2019. “I have sent an inquiry to the Commercial Crime Unit to get details of how the investigation ended.” The Pretoria News had not yet received the report at the time of publication. However, Maluleke last year reportedly confirmed the criminal investigation against Van Staden but did not mention her by name.
The ANC shadow speaker in the municipality, Klaas Mabunda, said he was aware of the charges against Van Staden. “As far as I know this case is under investigation by the Hawks. You only claim a travel allowance if you use your own car,” Mabunda said.
In 2018, the council filed a motion of no-confidence against Van Staden before the outcome of a forensic investigation into the municipality’s money issues. The Limpopo provincial treasury had placed the municipality under administration because of its bad financial state.