Room Service Roy's suite life at top hotel

21 November 2010 - 02:00 By SIBUSISO NGALWA

Newly appointed Minister of Communications Roy Padayachie lived in a five-star hotel several days a week for four years at a cost of around R5000 a night - a few hundred metres from his official residence, which he deemed not good enough.

Padayachie cost taxpayers an estimated R2-million while living it up at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria. That excludes his room service bill.

He lived in the Sheraton between 2004 and 2008 when he was deputy to late minister of communications Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri .

He occupied the exclusive Club Floor suites, for which the department was billed at a government rate of between R5000 and R6000 a night - despite being given a house in the ministerial Bryntirion Estate, near the Union Buildings.

A government official privy to Padayachie's travels said he would spend up to four days a week in Pretoria when parliament was in recess.

The Sunday Times has estimated that if Padayachie spent a minimum of two nights a week at the hotel over a four-year period, his bill could have been as high as R2.3-million.

This week, he would not answer specific questions about how many days he had stayed at the hotel and what it had cost.

He was promoted to minister of communications in President Jacob Zuma's recent cabinet reshuffle. He succeeded Siphiwe Nyanda, who was axed after his controversial one-year stay in luxury Cape Town hotels that cost taxpayers R500000.

In a written reply to questions by the Sunday Times, Padayachie admitted that he had lived in the Sheraton, saying it was "unavoidable and not of my own doing".

He said the Department of Public Works was to blame, as it did not have his ministerial home ready for him to move into.

He did not respond to a claim made by one official that he had refused to take occupation of the house because he was unhappy with the furniture that public works had bought for the house.

He said the house had been allocated to him sometime in 2005, but had structural defects, which delayed his occupation .

However, in his response, he admitted that former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had lived there in 2008 while her official residence, OR Tambo House, was being reno-vated.

Mlambo-Ngcuka is studying overseas and did not reply to questions at the time of going to press.

However, her office confirmed that she had lived in the house for a "few months".

Said Padayachie: "When the residence was ready for occupation, the house was then re-allocated to ... Mlambo-Ngcuka, who needed alternative accommodation while her official residence was undergoing renovations."

The Sunday Times can also reveal that Padayachie regularly rented a top-of-the-range E-class Mercedes-Benz during his weekend and official trips to his home town of Durban.

The car costs about R3000 a day to rent.

At one point, the department splashed out R75000 over a three-week period.

Padayachie, however, said the car was hired only for "official engagements" and that "it is mandatory for (me) to be accompanied by VIP close protectors, who drive and escort (me)".

He said he was satisfied that his expenditure during his time as deputy minister was in line with the regulations stipulated in the ministerial handbook and that he had not breached the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

The former director-general in the department, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, said she was aware of Padayachie's hotel stay, adding that issues of accommodation for ministers were dealt with by the Department of Public Works.

"The point I'm making is that this is not our call ... whether he is staying in a hotel or a house, it is not one of the issues that the DG of a department would actually be responsible for."

The Sheraton's marketing manager, Willie Williams, refused to discuss Padayachie's stay, saying that it was a private matter.

"We don't give out (such) information due to privacy issues ... it doesn't matter whether it's a minister or a (private individual). It's the confidentiality we have with our guests."

Public works spokesman Thami Mchunu said the department would be able to respond only next week, as "the department is still collating the information".

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