The affordable education loan option
Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has been spending thousands of rands in taxpayers’ money staying with her security officers at one of Joburg’s most expensive five-star hotels – less than 70km from her official residence in Pretoria.
The minister last week told The Sunday Independent she stayed at the luxurious Westcliff Hotel, north of Joburg, but said taxpayers only paid for her security and her accommodation when she was on official duty.
She said she paid for her private stay.
Sisulu initially promised to provide all the invoices for her stay at the hotel, ranked eighth out of Joburg’s 70 hotels, but 24 hours later the department refused to provide the invoices.
“This department will never give journalists invoices,” said Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya.
He confirmed that the minister “officially” spent five nights at the hotel between June last year and June this year before the hotel closed for renovations.
“Each booking consisted of one day at a time, therefore it is five days in the 12 month period. These five times were for official purposes. Her private stay at the hotel is private, she deals with it privately when it comes to payments,” said Mabaya.
A businessman who met Sisulu for an official business meeting at the hotel said she stayed in a luxury suite.
The hotel said whatever he consumed would be covered by the ministry.
According to the Westcliff ratecard issued to a reputable travel agency, rooms at the Westcliff range from about R3 000 for a standard room to R7 500 for a one-bedroom suite.
The presidential suite is said to cost over R12 000 a night.
Had the minister occupied a one-bedroom suite and her driver and bodyguard a single room each, it would mean Sisulu spent at least R60 000 for just five nights.
Mabaya said: “Depending on (her) engagements for the following day, the time it starts and (her) engagements from the day before, the minister can stay at a hotel in Johannesburg,” said Mabaya.
“It is very normal for the minister to leave Cape Town and have a meeting in Johannesburg later in the evening to prepare for the engagement the following morning.”
Four sources – including two officials in her department, a businessman and a government employee from another department – said Sisulu stayed and worked from the hotel. They all spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
But their versions regarding the times of Sisulu’s stays at the hotel differed.
This could not be independently verified.
One source said Sisulu justified her stay by saying she was assisting the Mandela family during the former president’s stay in hospital.
Sisulu told The Sunday Independent that she had always used the hotel for private and official purposes.
An aide from her ministry confirmed that the minister “would work tirelessly throughout the night” and had to attend meetings at Luthuli House.
Mabaya however refused to divulge how much the ministry spent on accommodating Sisulu’s security detail.
“Whenever (a) minister is at any place there is security provided by the state. This is part of their work, that is standard, what’s the purpose of the invoices?” he asked.
“The reason they are called security is that they must secure the minister at all times. They protect the minister all the times. What will a security who is 100km away do to provide security… when they are 100km apart?”
At Sisulu’s official residence in Bryntirion, Pretoria, she would however have VIP protectors at her gate, allowing her driver and bodyguard to go home overnight.
This is not the first time Sisulu has come under scrutiny over her spending.
Last year, it was reported that she refused to move to the department’s headquarters at Batho Pele House in the Pretoria CBD because the building was derelict, in the wrong part of town and unsafe for ministerial staff.
Instead she was stationed at the State Information Technology Agency‘s offices in Erasmuskloof in Pretoria East.
Sisulu also came under fire for her alleged abuse of the SANDF’s ultra-luxury Gulfstream jets while she was the defence minister.
It was alleged that Sisulu took 203 trips over three years.
Sisulu however said she only undertook 35 official trips with the hired planes and that many of the trips were to and from international destinations or when the SA Air Force Falcon 50 allocated for use by the minister was not available. – Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare. - Sunday Independent