KZN Agriculture officials in hot water over luxurious junket
About 25 officials checked into the upmarket Zimbali Resort on Friday last week and left on Monday morning. It is not clear how much the government paid for the junket, but Fairmont Zimbali Resort said it charged R3420 a room a night, while its winter special was R2500. It charge government rates of R1350 per night with breakfast and R1500 breakfast and dinner.
The move has been described by a labour union as wasteful expenditure, a misuse of taxpayers’ money and as disregarding calls by the Treasury for better management of financial resources.
Department spokesperson Vusi Zuma said officials booked into the hotel as it was the closest resort to the Stanger office at which they had been working. He said they went to the hotel as they still had much work to do to finalise the recruitment processes.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) regional secretary in the Harry Gwala Region, Mazwi Ngubane, said they had warned the officials against booking at the resort. A department communiqué seen by The Mercury suggests that the booking at the resort was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“There was no reason for them to book themselves in at the resort just to shortlist candidates. That is something they could have done at the department’s Cedara offices,” Ngubane said.
“This is a waste and goes against everything that the Treasury has been warning about. A lot of people booked into the resort. It’s not just the money for the bookings, it’s also the money for travelling there, as the employees will now claim that money back. Even if they had used the department’s vehicles to travel there, that is still a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Zuma said the department had a high volume of unfilled vacancies.
“As we prepare for the new financial year, it was necessary that we fill these posts urgently to accelerate service delivery,” he said.
“However, during the recruitment phase that took place in our Stanger local office, the department officials had to work extended hours due to the high volume of applications received.
“The department then had to make accommodation provisions to minimise risk and limit travel costs. It was therefore decided to accommodate officials at a nearby place, which happened to be Zimbali Resort, which was convenient and in line with government cost-cutting measures.”
He said the hotel offered competitive rates that were in line with Treasury regulations, and officials were booked for two days, not three.
“As the department, we do not view this as wasteful expenditure, but a proactive step to minimise risk and cut travelling costs,” he said.
The DA’s Francois Rodgers described the use of taxpayers’ money as “shocking”.
“It looks like they wanted a holiday before the lockdown. Why would they stay there? There are many other hotels that would have given them cheaper rates.”
He said the province’s finances were in a poor state and it could ill afford such spending.
The chairperson of the Finance Portfolio Committee, Sipho Nkosi, said they would not want to micro manage the department or speak about issues that were internal matters. He said the head of department had informed them that they had come up with a strategy to fill the vacant posts.
“We know that the department has been struggling to fill posts, and we cannot tell them which hotel they can or cannot stay in,” he said.