Agriculture ministry defends R1.6m hotel bills
Criticism of Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson for luxury hotel stays is "cheap politicking", her department said on Monday.
"The minister was appointed in May 2009, and did not have official accommodation for more than a year," it said by way of explanation in a statement.
In a reply to a parliamentary question, tabled earlier, Joemat-Pettersson revealed she had spent R1,584,817.86 -- since April 1, 2009 -- on hotel accommodation, all while on "official duties".
Her written reply to the question, posed by the Democratic Alliance, drew sharp criticism from the opposition party on Monday.
"The... reply revealed numerous long stays at hotels, bookings at five-star hotels, a high number of double-bookings (meaning that two different hotels were booked and paid for, for the same night) and a number of stays at hotels in Pretoria, despite the fact that the minister should have an official residence there," DA MP Lourie Bosman said in a statement.
Joemat-Pettersson's hotel bills were unjustifiable in a country where millions lived in poverty and did not have access to proper housing.
"Her spending habits are similar to those of many of her Cabinet colleagues, who seem intent on placing their expensive tastes above the needs of the South African people," he said.
Hotel expenses listed by Joemat-Pettersson in her reply include, among others:
-- Over a month at the Vineyard Hotel and Spa in Cape Town during June and July 2009, at a cost of R134,735.86;
-- Five weeks at the Peermont D'Oreal Grande Emperor's Palace in Johannesburg between September 16 and October 21, 2009, at a total cost of R289,352; and,
-- Close to a month spent at Pure Toys One CC in Johannesburg during June and July last year, at a total cost of R420,000.
In its reaction to the criticism on Monday, the department of agriculture said it was perturbed by what it called the DA's "grandstanding".
The DA had failed to explain the context of why Joemat-Pettersson had to be accommodated at hotels.
"The minister was appointed in May 2009 and did not have official accommodation for more than a year. The house that was allocated to the minister in Cape Town was sub-standard and had many chronic defects," the department said.
"During that period when the house was undergoing renovations, [the] minister had to be accommodated at a hotel to allow her to perform her official duties."
To label the minister's hotel accommodation unjustifiable (and) suggesting she placed expensive tastes above the needs of the South African people, was "insulting, disingenuous and smacks of cheap politicking", the department said.
The R1.6 million in hotel costs run up by the minister during her about 30 months in office were "justifiable given the prevailing circumstances at the time", the department said.
"The minister had to use alternative accommodation in accordance with the rules governing the official accommodation of ministers."