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Minister says she was not reckless

Cape Town - Embattled Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has hit out at the media, accusing it of making misleading statements about her trip to Sweden with her family in December 2009 that led to an investigation by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Joemat-Pettersson has denied that she was extravagant, or that she ever asked to stay in luxurious accommodation. She was responding to Madonsela’s release this week of a report, “Costly Moves”, following the public protector’s investigation into a complaint by the DA’s Lourie Bosman last year that Joemat-Pettersson had violated the executive ethics code by allegedly using public funds recklessly for hotel and guesthouse accommodation, and allegedly undertaking a trip to Sweden at state expense in December 2009 on the pretext that it was an official trip.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, held a press conference at the Imbizo Media Centre at Parliament. Picture: David Ritchie. Credit: INLSA

Madonsela found that Joemat-Pettersson had failed to concern herself with the prudent use of public funds relating to her accommodation expenses.

Madonsela upheld Joemat-Pettersson’s argument that she had been misled by her chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, that the department had to pay for the return flights of her two children and their au pair from Sweden in January 2010 .

But Madonsela said this had nevertheless been “unlawful”, and recommended that “appropriate action” be taken by the department to recover from Joemat-Pettersson the R151 858 cost of these tickets and that Bopape face disciplinary action.

Joemat-Pettersson’s office said the minister had noted the public protector’s findings: “The misleading claims made by various media reports warrant clarification. It is incomprehensible that the minister is accused… of using public money to fund the holiday of her children and their au pair… The minister paid for the return tickets and accommodation for her children and their au pair.

“In addition, she covered the non-refundable costs of the changes to the tickets. The minister would have purchased new return tickets for all three if she had been correctly advised.”

Referring to the accommodation row, the statement said Joemat-Pettersson had not been allocated an official residence. “She is a single parent with minor children and has the responsibility to provide suitable accommodation for them. She stayed in a reasonably priced guest house in Pretoria for six months… The request for any luxurious accommodation was not at her behest.”

Joemat-Pettersson had spent “significant time, money and personal effort to relieve the burden” that her lack of accommodation was placing on the state, the statement continued.

“To date, she still lives in temporary accommodation in Cape Town. The perception by the media that the minister was extravagant is rejected with the contempt it deserves.”

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