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The good life of Mr and Mrs Mgidlana

05 June 2016 - 02:00 By THABO MOKONE

Parliament top administrator splurged more than R134, 000 in just four months on business-class flights, a Mercedes-Benz chauffeur service and nights in Johannesburg's top hotels, travelling with his wife at taxpayers' expense.Confidential parliamentary documents seen by the Sunday Times show that Gengezi Mgidlana, the secretary to parliament, regularly travels to business and other unclassified meetings with his wife, Lerato, in tow, and the national legislature is made to foot the bill.The travel documents show that between January and April this year, Mgidlana and his wife:• Boarded four SAA business-class flights that are estimated to have cost at least R70,720;• Spent two nights at Sandton's Michelangelo Towers in an executive suite that costs R7,250 a night; three nights at the Four Seasons Westcliff, where the cheapest suite costs R4, 800 a night; and another stay at the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice Melrose Arch, which charges just under R2,000 a night for a suite; and• In all these visits, the couple enjoyed a chauffeur service in a Mercedes-Benz E-class, available for an entry fee of R4,700 a day depending on market conditions.But Mgidlana insists that all his trips were above board and he did not violate any laws because parliament's travel policy allows him to travel with his wife, stay in five-star hotels and be driven by a chauffeur.On Twitter, Mgidlana's wife affectionately refers to him as "my blesser" - a man with deep pockets to pamper his lover.Parliamentary spokesman Luzuko Jacobs said parliament's travel policy allowed Mgidlana to travel with his wife. He justified hiring a chauffeur-driven car for Mgidlana, saying he "worked very long hours" and had no time to drive himself. "The decision to be chauffeur-driven is related to operational requirements and taking into consideration safety, efficiency and effectiveness."The time of the STP [secretary to parliament] can be better utilised doing work rather than driving," said Jacobs. "It is not cost-effective for the STP to drive himself, instead of him doing the work that he was appointed to do during long ... trips. The STP very often works very long hours and [is] usually required to do work while in transit."But whistleblowers have argued that Mgidlana i s abusing the legislature's travel policy, saying his trips with his wife are too frequent.Parliamentary officials, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that the provision to travel with a spouse was meant to provide for rare occasions.Mgidlana is no stranger to controversy. He came under fire last year after it emerged that he and his family were being ferried around Cape Town in a parliament-owned Audi A8 fitted with blue lights.In April, opposition parties called for him to be hauled before a newly created parliamentary committee to account for leading a delegation of officials on a two-week benchmarking visit to Europe that cost R2-million, which was largely seen as a junket.In May, the Sunday Times reported that Mgidlana paid himself a R71,000 bonus just three months into his job, in March 2015. This cruising around in class-J vehicles and business class has to stop. He is not the president or a minister. There is no reason for him to travel like a rock star This exorbitant spending of public funds flies in the face of austerity measures introduced by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the National Treasury in 2013.The measures were aimed at reducing fat-cat spending of public funds as government revenue generation was under pressure due to a biting economic climate.While the documents show that Mgidlana and his spouse travelled to official meetings in February, March and April, the purpose of their January trip is not stated.The official meetings include ones with the UN Development Programme, the South African Legislative Sector and the Department of Public Works.However, the January trip coincided with the ANC's 104th birthday celebrations in Rustenburg, and Lerato checked in on her Facebook page at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, where the jamboree was held.Asked what occupied Lerato while her husband was in meetings, Jacobs said parliament was not responsible for her schedule.Jacobs argued that Mgidlana's spending was not in breach of the Treasury's cost-containment measures, saying the yet-to-be-published annual report for the past financial year would reflect a saving of money by parliament.Jacobs said there was a "concerted effort to tarnish the image" of Mgidlana.DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the party would raise the matter at the first meeting of the newly created oversight committee on the budget of parliament."This cruising around in class-J vehicles and business class has to stop. He is not the president or a minister. There is no reason for him to travel like a rock star and this is unacceptable. We can't have a situation where everybody is being told to cut down on travelling but Mgidlana does the complete opposite when he should be setting the example, so the travel policy has to be changed in line with the current financial circumstances."..

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