International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane would be forgiven for being mistaken for an international jet-setter, given that she spent R10 million in chartering 14 jets and R3m on luxury hotel accommodation in 15 months.
Over the past few months, details of excessive travel expenses incurred by members of President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet have been given in written replies to questions from DA MPs.
Nkoana-Mashabane said in a written reply that between April last year and June this year she had 14 chartered flights at a cost of more than R10.4m. She also spent R2.4m on tickets for 26 business class, 14 first class and three economy class flights.
While neither of Nkoana-Mashabane’s deputies – Ebrahim Ebrahim and Marius Fransman, whose bill included his predecessor’s – chartered any private jets, their international travel costs topped R1m for the same period. Their domestic travel bill was just over R416 000.
The DA’s spokesman on international relations, Kenneth Mubu, MP, said the party’s calculations indicated that, had the minister used commercial airlines, she would have saved taxpayers R9.6m.
“No doubt the cost of these flights to the South African people is the furthest thing from her mind as she kicks back on a luxury jet. Now she owes us all an explanation.”
Mubu said it was clear that private jets were the minister’s “preferred mode of transport”.
The DA intended asking the public protector to launch an investigation into the minister’s conduct.
Nkoana-Mashabane’s spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said she was the “most-travelled” minister because of the “responsibility attached to the portfolio”.
“Ministers in other countries get dedicated planes to execute their foreign policies. The minister doesn’t have a plane dedicated to her.”
Monyela said the chartered aircraft were to get to countries in Africa that were difficult to reach and didn’t have direct flights.
The minister was often called to respond to matters in other African countries at short notice.
“If there’s a cheaper way of flying across the continent, the minster would be happy to take it.”
Chartering flights was not the “preferred option” but at times “necessary”, he said.
Nkoana-Mashabane used 14 chartered private jets to visit several African countries.
She had used a chartered jet on October 17-26 last year to attend meetings in the capitals of Egypt, Kenya, North and South Sudan.
On December 19-21, the minister travelled to the capitals of north and south Sudan and a city in Equatorial Guinea.
On January 5-7, she chartered a flight to Nigeria and Ghana.
Asked whether the minister’s business class and first class flights were considered the cheaper option, Monyela said members of the executive’s mode of transport were regulated by the Ministerial Handbook, which “entitled” them to travel in those classes.
“This is what the Ministerial Handbook entitles ministers to do.”
Given his assertion that Nkoana-Mashabane preferred the cheapest option, why did she not travel economy class?
“Doing the number of trips to fulfil all that she should, can you imagine, what do you think that would do to her health?”
Mubu said: “This is the minister who, in September, chartered a flight from Oslo apparently to avoid having her luggage scanned.
“But now a different picture is emerging. The chartered flight from Oslo was not a one-off – expensive chartered flights are clearly her preferred mode of travel.” - Political Bureau