Thuli: Hotel bills 'excessive'
Living in the lap of luxury and flying her children and an au pair to Sweden for Christmas, at taxpayers' expense, could cost Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson dearly.
But the DA fears she will get away with just a slap on the wrist.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela found, in a report released yesterday, that the minister's R420000 bill at a luxury Johannesburg guest house - for about a month's stay in 2010 - and her bill of R8 085 a night at a hotel near OR Tambo airport, were "unconscionably excessive".
Madonsela investigated Joemat-Pettersson after DA MP Lourie Bosman alleged she was abusing public funds to pay for expensive accommodation while waiting for her official residences in Pretoria and Cape Town to be completed.
Bosman also lambasted the minister for allegedly using official business as a ruse for a holiday in Sweden in December 2009.
Last year, it emerged that she received R200000 a month for her two sons from her late husband's estate. She may claim unlimited travel expenses from the estate. At the time, her spokesman, Selby Bokaba, said: "The minister has declared that she has unlimited access to travel so she doesn't need taxpayers' money to travel."
Madonsela said Joemat-Petterssson's justification of the costs, namely that she needed extra room for her family, was reasonable considering the length of time she had spent in hotels and guest houses because of the "inconceivable tardiness" of the Department of Public Works.
"However, Minister Joemat-Pettersson's defence of ignorance of the costs involved, though accepted, is a cause for serious concern as she displayed a blank-cheque attitude towards public funds."
As for the Sweden trip, it was of an "official nature" but was combined with a family holiday. The holiday was cut short when she was "recalled by The Presidency" and returned to South Africa on January 1 2010.
The return air fare for her children and their au pair was paid by the state.
Joemat-Pettersson said her chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, had told her that she did not have to pay the air fare. This was "incorrect advice", said Madonsela.
She found that Bopape had acted improperly and this had resulted in "fruitless, wasteful and unlawful expenditure".
Madonsela has asked President Jacob Zuma to "consider reprimanding" the minister and that the air fare of R151858 be recovered from her. She said action should be taken against Bopape.
Lourie said "the recommendation that the president 'reprimand' the minister for her 'improper and unethical conduct' was nothing more than a slap on the wrist".
Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said yesterday that the president has not seen the report.
FINDINGS OF OTHER PROBES
PUBLIC protector Thuli Madonsela has released five reports on alleged irregularities at local, provincial and national government level.
In addition to the details of her investigation into Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson, she revealed that:
- Northern Cape Premier Hazel Jenkins was cleared of wrongdoing relating to the sale of municipal land by the Sol Plaatje municipality in Kimberley;
- Northern Cape executive council finance official John Block was cleared of irregularities regarding the sale of land in Kimberley;
- There was no evidence of maladministration by the Department of Mineral Resources in relation to the procurement of services; and
- Ehlanzeni municipal manager Hugh Mbatha was implicated in maladministration.