Presidency in firing line over expenditure
Parliament's finance watchdog committee, Scopa, has refused to condone the Presidency's unauthorised expenditure of more than R28-million.
Appearing before Scopa, directors of governance and administration in the national Treasury, Matshepo Maidi and George Tembo, were yesterday at pains to explain to MPs why they had recommended the unauthorised expenditure.
They argued it had been incurred under "unavoidable circumstances", but MPs were not buying the story.
The Treasury wants the Presidency's budget for 2012/13 to be cut by R28-million to pay for the 2010/11 unauthorised spending.
When asked for a detailed breakdown, Maidi said the money was spent on goods and services such as:
- Legal fees at R11.4-million;
- Communications services that cost R7.5 million;
- Additional staff at almost R1-million; and
- Advertising that cost just more than R500000.
Maidi said some of the money had been used to finance the unavoidable and frequent overseas travel of the staff of the Presidency, considering the "busy schedule" of that office.
But Scopa chairman Themba Godi was having none of that as he remained adamant that the expenditure could have been avoided .
"I think we are making heavy weather of what was supposed to be a very simple process because, from your breakdown, can we say all those items were unavoidable?" he asked.
Maidi responded: "Chair, not all of them are unavoidable."
Godi said accepting the Treasury's request would be the same as signing the Presidency "a blank" cheque.
DA MP Dion George also weighed in, saying that there was no "Presidency in the world that had a bottomless pit of money".
He also called for a further breakdown of the Presidency's legal costs to be submitted to Scopa before the unauthorised expenditure could be condoned.
"The president is very busy obviously, but we do know that he does travel and that the department has an idea of what he has to do during the year, so it could possibly sharpen its pencil and be more accurate in its budgeting," said George.
"This is actually a lot of money ... so I am feeling very uncomfortable with the information I am receiving.
"We don't seem to have a handle on expenditure in the Presidency."
Also in the firing line was the Department of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities, which is also located in the Presidency.
The department incurred an unauthorised expenditure of almost R4-million in 2010/11 after undertaking "mandatory overseas trips" including one when Minister Lulu Xingwana led a 49-member delegation to a UN gender summit in New York.
The delegation was booked at the five-star Ritz Carlton hotel.
The Treasury also asked Scopa to condone the expenditure, with Tembo telling the committee that Xingwana's department has made a commitment to stop taking oversized delegations overseas.