Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma should consider reprimanding Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson for violating the executive ethics code, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said on Monday.
Madonsela said the department’s acting director general should recover about R150,000 Joemat-Pettersson incurred for return flights for her two children and their au pair from Sweden to South Africa in January 2010.
The minister travelled to Sweden on official business in December 2009. The trip was combined with a family holiday, which started on December 23, at the end of her official trip.
However, Joemat-Pettersson had to cut the holiday short when she was recalled by the presidency. She returned on January 1, 2010.
“The return trips of the minister’s children and au pair were paid for by the state in violation of the provisions of paragraph 3.4 of chapter six of the Ministerial Handbook, in the amount of R151,878,” Madonsela found in her report.
Joemat-Pettersson's spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Democratic Alliance MP Lourie Bosman, who called for the probe, said Joemat-Pettersson should be fired.
“We do believe that the Public Protector’s recommendation - that the president must 'reprimand' minister Joemat-Pettersson for her 'improper and unethical' conduct - is nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” Bosman said in a statement on Monday.
Congress of the People Chief Whip Dennis Bloem echoed the DA's call for the president to sack the minister.
The Public Protector also investigated whether the minister used public funds to pay for expensive accommodation at hotels while she was awaiting the allocation of her official residences in Cape Town and Pretoria.
Madonsela said Joemat-Pettersson “displayed a blank cheque attitude towards public funds”.
Joemat-Pettersson stayed at the 28A On Oxford Guest House from June 13 to July 11, 2010, for R420,000, and at the Peermont D’Oreale Grande Hotel at a cost of R289,352.
“Therefore, the conclusion that her conduct amounted to reckless use of public funds, was improper and unethical, is accordingly justified,” Madonsela said.
The minister's justification of the costs, that she needed extra room for her family, was however reasonable.
“She was entitled to family-sized accommodation considering the length of time she spent in hotels and guest houses due to inconceivable tardiness of the department of public works,” Madonsela said.
“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.”
The Protector was scathing of former chief of staff Bafedile Bopape for the way she handled the minister's travel and accommodation expenses.
Madonsela recommended action against Bopape for her “improper conduct which resulted in fruitless, wasteful and unlawful expenditure”.
Bosman said the Public Protector was investigating tender procedures in the department.
“Her (Madonsela's) office has also confirmed that she will investigate further potential violations of the Executive Ethics Code by Minister Joemat-Pettersson resulting from what the DA considers to be her failure to effectively perform her ministerial duties,” he said. - Sapa