Oh balls! Baleka Mbete urged to pay for swanky 'Speaker's Ball'

Suppliers still trying to get cash for event held early last year

11 November 2018 - 00:01 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete prepares for the 'Speaker's Ball' in Cape Town last year. Picture: Adrian de Kock
National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete prepares for the 'Speaker's Ball' in Cape Town last year. Picture: Adrian de Kock

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete is being haunted by an outstanding bill for a swanky gala dinner hosted to launch her presidential campaign last year.

Mbete has distanced herself from the glitzy event, billed as the "Speaker's Ball", which was hosted for selected guests at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay after former president Jacob Zuma's 2017 state of the nation address.

Her spokesperson said Mbete never accepted liability for the event that eventually cost R2.5m, and was cleared of any wrongdoing by parliament's ethics committee.

However, sources with intimate knowledge of the matter said it has been 19 months of haggling for payment from Mbete and her daughter Nonkululeko Kgositsile, who was said to be the conduit between Mbete and service providers.

Mbete's spokesperson, Amanda Madikiza, on Friday insisted that the event was privately organised and funded.

She said Mbete had merely been invited to deliver a keynote address.

Madikiza said when Mbete became aware of the payment debacle, she attempted to facilitate engagements between the affected parties.

"She again made it clear that she is not personally liable for any financial responsibilities concerning the event and has refused to be drawn into the matter," said Madikiza.

But despite Madikiza's assertions on behalf of Mbete, sources claim that:

  • The event was organised as part of Mbete's unsuccessful bid to succeed Zuma;
  • The organiser received some of the payment in March last year, only after sending a threatening lawyer's letter to Mbete and Kgositsile; and
  • The company of one of the suppliers subcontracted to organise the event went bust due to nonpayment.

Summonses to attach Kgositsile's properties for nonpayment have been issued.

Kgositsile had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, who reported the issue to the ethics committee when it came to light last year, this week wrote to Mbete imploring her to settle the outstanding dinner bill, said to amount to around R500,000.

Steenhuisen said failure to settle the bill would harm the reputation of parliament and the integrity of the office of the speaker.

Sources said Mbete's office staff worked at the dinner event, and the guest list was forwarded to organisers from her parliamentary office.

Distanced themselves

The ANC and parliament at the time distanced themselves from the event. Mbete claimed she had secured sponsorship for the gala dinner.

In October last year, the ethics committee dismissed Steenhuisen's complaint.

Mbete told the committee that the organisers hosted the event in celebration and acknowledgement of the leadership of women in society, including herself as speaker.

She confirmed that Kgositsile was the main organiser and that the event was funded or resourced through private funding. The supplier, an event management company, was contracted to organise and manage the event on the instructions of Kgositsile.

"This function was not initiated, hosted, organised, funded or resourced by parliament or the office of the speaker. Madam Speaker did not, in any capacity, act as initiator, organiser or host of the annual Speaker's Ball, nor did the organisers act on her behalf in organising or hosting the event," Mbete told the ethics committee.

She also said she did not enter into any verbal or written agreement, or acknowledge any debt linked to the event, and neither did anyone do so on her behalf.

The ethics committee's report states that a few days after the event, Mbete became aware that the main service provider had not been paid, and could not pay those subcontracted to it.

She "facilitated engagements between the main organiser" and the main supplier to resolve the matter, reads the report.