Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi. Photo: Phill Magakoe

Ministers could not answer questions about their use of hotels as such detail could be used to “ambush” them, government spokesman Jimmy Manyi said on Thursday.

“It is indeed a security issue and it would be quite frankly irresponsible for ministers to put in on (a) website,” Manyi told a regular post-Cabinet briefing in Cape Town.

“It would be a serious, serious breach of security.”

He said Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting reiterated a call to ministers to answer written parliamentary questions timeously.

The media asked why ministers were citing security reasons for declining to respond to questions from the opposition aimed at establishing how taxpayers' money was spent on travel and accommodation.

Water and Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele recently did so in response to questions from the Democratic Alliance.

Last year, the defence ministry declined to give details of President Jacob Zuma's local and international flights since he took office, stating that this could put his life at risk.

Manyi said even if the information being requested was old, it could still be of use to criminals planning to attack members of the executive, and could therefore not be made public.

“The issue here is that where two years ago, up to the same date, the minister keeps going to the same place, they are mapping out a clear roadmap for what criminals should do, because we are saying here is the predictable situation,” he said.

“So if you want to do an ambush why don't you target this place? This is the context.”

Manyi said on such questions the minister would provide the information to Motlanthe's office, who could then share it privately with the MP who asked the question.

“If certain of the questions pose a security risk, ministers will go and tell the leader of government business what those are, so that opposition members can go to the leader of government business and check that out,” Manyi said.

“So in that way the question is answered in a way that does not compromise security.”

He dismissed a journalist's suggestion that if criminals were planning to attack ministers, they would more likely do so between their easily identifiable offices and official residences.

“They are forever out there in their constituencies. They are criss-crossing the country. They are never in their homes,” Manyi said.

DA MP David Maynier, who put the questions to Molewa and Cwele and planned to ask the same information from other ministers, said he had not been told he could obtain the answers from Motlanthe's office.

He dismissed Manyi's arguments on security.

“I see no reason why a retrospective answer giving the names of hotels, the duration and the cost of the stay would endanger the ministers.

“I see it as an attempt to cover up the 1/8Higher Education Minister 3/8 Blade Nzimande syndrome of ministers staying in luxury hotels at great expense to the taxpayer.”

It was revealed last year that Nzimande spent 15 nights in the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, one of the most luxurious hotels in the country. -

Sapa