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Johannesburg - More details have emerged of government spending on The New Age newspaper, with Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s office having splurged close to R700 000 for one breakfast briefing last year.
The details have come to light as the spat between The New Age and DA leader Helen Zille intensified on Tuesday, after she pulled out of a briefing over government funding for the events.
Ironically, it later emerged that Zille’s party had received huge sums in donations from the Gupta family, owners of The New Age. The money paid by Mokonyane’s office is in addition to the almost R1 million paid by state-owned rail freight firm Transnet, one of the sponsors of the breakfast in question.
A purchase order seen by The Star shows how R683 095 was paid by Mokonyane’s office for the briefing.
The premier’s office was also invoiced for 500 guests at R801.78 per head, totalling R400 890; and four front-page advertisements at R44 070 each, amounting to R176 280.
This follows previous revelations that Transnet paid about R17.5m for 18 breakfast briefings and Eskom R7.2m to sponsor six sessions, which works out to about R1.2m in sponsorship per breakfast, between November 2011 and last year.
Sources said the premier’s office was in lockdown on Tuesday, with e-mails being scrutinised in a bid to discover who was responsible for leaking the document.
Mokonyane spoke at The New Age business briefing on October 4 last year, outlining her plans to strengthen the province’s position as the economic hub of South Africa. She also spoke of her government’s achievements.
Also seen by The Star is e-mail correspondence between The New Age’s deputy CEO Lucille Jacobs and staff in Mokonyane’s office.
The DA caucus leader in the Gauteng provincial legislature, Jack Bloom, said the amount paid to The New Age by the provincial government looked “fishy” as he and other members of the oversight committee on the premier’s office and legislature, which also deals with publicity spending, were not aware of the payment.
He said he would be raising the matter officially in the provincial legislature in a bid to get answers.
“And I happen to sit on the oversight committee. It was not disclosed and it is highly questionable. I will be asking questions about it. It sounds very fishy. I will be asking questions in the legislature about which budget it came from.
The public spending on The New Age also raises questions over whether the government is getting value for money, as the paper’s circulation figures are not readily available.
Bizcommunity’s Robin Parker, who worked in the print industry on advertising matters, said the rates being charged by The New Age looked “hefty”.
Mokonyane’s spokesman, Thebe Mohatle, said he couldn’t respond immediately as the department would first have to pull out the records to be able to confirm the spending. He said they would have a response today.
The New Age’s spokesman, Gary Naidoo, said on Tuesday the company was “quite surprised” by enquiries about Mokonyane’s briefing, saying the company had explained the model several times.
“The business briefing sponsorship covers the pre- and post-event marketing, catering, venue hire, audiovisual cost and event management.
“We sell tickets to those who attend the function, which covers the cost of a subscription to our newspaper. In this specific case, the Gauteng premier’s office bought seats to invite the province’s stakeholders to attend this important briefing. In addition, advertising was included as part of the deal,” said Naidoo.
Meanwhile, the gloves have come off between Zille and the newspaper, with Zille writing in her SA Today newsletter on Tuesday that she made her decision to pull out of the briefing after it emerged that state-owned enterprises Eskom, Transnet and Telkom had funded 36 breakfasts to the tune of R36.7m.
She also hit out at the paper for a report about her government’s contract with advertising company TBWA Hunt Lascaris.
Zille and party spokesman Mmusi Maimane were scheduled to hold a press briefing on Wednesday on the latest developments relating to the funding of The New Age and what action the DA intends taking.
In 2011, the Free State provincial government defended its spending on The New Age, saying it was committed to the free flow of information.
“They aimed to carry news from every province and to consistently cover the smaller towns of the Free State, something the mainstream media has not been able to do,” its spokesperson said at the time.