Soon the masseuse arrives: “What will it be today, ma’am? A Swedish massage, aromatherapy, hot stones, deep tissue, back or neck and shoulder massage?” She settles for deep tissue and the masseuse begins to mix his oils in preparation for the treatment. Nothing unusual or unethical about such a scenario, yet it landed our Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo in a real spot of bother.
Simply because, as an MP, she had breached the ethical code of parliamentarians by failing to declare her stay at the sumptuous Oberoi Hotel which a businessman paid for.
The parliamentary code stipulates that gifts and hospitality in excess of R1500, from a source other than a family member or permanent companion, should be declared.
In this case, there was a complaint from an opposition MP that Dlodlo stayed at the Oberoi in 2015 and enjoyed spa massages, room service and car hire for which she did not pay.
Codes of ethics are not new. In fact, most reputable organisations, businesses, fellowships and professional groupings have a code which serves as a guideline to its members on how to conduct themselves in line with its primary values and ethical standards.
The same applies to our elected public representatives in Parliament where the code outlines the minimum ethical standards of behaviour.
What has made Dlodlo’s case a big talking point is not just the breach per se but how she tried to explain herself to the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests which rules on such complaints.
It all began after media reports that Dlodlo’s stay in Dubai was arranged by the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers, and was paid for by Fana Hlongwane who some might recall was implicated in Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report.
As Minister Dlodlo told the committee, she and Hlongwane were childhood friends and they considered themselves as sister and brother, according to “African culture”. “The reason why she did not declare the stay at the Oberoi hotel and the additional benefits of spa massages, room service and car hire was because she considered Fana Hlongwane her brother.” But the committee did not buy the explanation, saying the definition of “immediate family” did not extend to the type of brother-sister relations Minister Dlodlo enjoyed with Hlongwane.
Dlodlo has graciously accepted the findings about her “relative” mistake as well as the sanction that she would have to undergo counselling on all aspects of the parliamentary ethics code.
The moral of the story? In these times when unethical and unscrupulous behaviour is almost a way of life in our country, there’s no such thing as a free freebie.