File photo: Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini

Durban -

King Goodwill Zwelithini and his entourage spent more than R800 000 a month on flying in private jets and helicopters to perform official duties including attending funerals and weddings.

The DA said on Thursday night that the expenses were unacceptable in these tough economic times, especially as the finance minister had asked government departments to tighten their belts.

Details about the king’s monthly travel tab emerged on Thursday at a meeting of the KwaZulu-Natal Finance Portfolio Committee which is conducting mid-year budget reviews on provincial government departments.

However, it could not be established on Thursday night how often the king’s travel bill had hit the R800 000 mark during the current financial year.

Committee member and IFP MPL, Roman Liptak, who attended the meeting, said the figure of more than R800 000 was given as an “average” monthly expenditure on travelling by the king and his entourage.

In the current financial year, the Royal Household was allocated a budget of R59.5 million.

However, three months ago there was an outcry when the department officials tabled a request for a further R12m for the constructing of a modern house in the king’s traditional palace of eNyokeni and a further R5m to convert a farmhouse into a palace for the monarch’s youngest wife, Zola Mafu.

The request generated a further controversy when the king said he had nothing to do with these requests, suggesting that the officials had not consulted him.

Documents tabled at the meeting, which are in possession of The Mercury, showed that the chief financial officer in the Royal Household Department, Mduduzi Mthembu, had suggested to committee members on Thursday that it was “difficult” to control the king’s travels and associated costs.

Mthembu said that at least R820 000 had been used a month for the hire of private jets and helicopters, which, he said, was the most economical way for the king to criss-cross the province in the performance of his duties.

During this year, the king was involved in many activities, which included attending celebrations marking his 40-year reign, opening the KZN legislature, attending King Shaka Day events in KZN and in Gauteng and government events where he was accompanied by a large delegation of abantwana (princesses).

He also sent large delegations to the weddings and funerals of royal families in the Eastern Cape.

“His majesty sometimes used helicopters and private jets in the execution of his duties and it was therefore practically impossible for the department to control the king’s activities, which come with financial implications.

“All the department could do was to reprioritise other departmental activities to stay within the overall budget. “These trips were all within the mandate of the department,” he said in the document.

It also emerged at Thursday’s meeting that the high expenditure was owing in part to the maintenance of the fleet of vehicles for the king’s five queens, or to hire cars when the department’s own cars were being repaired.

The committee was also told that the refurbishing of the royal palaces, which was budgeted for in the previous financial year, had to be undertaken in the current financial year because there had been big over-runs on some items.

The maintenance and refurbishing involved conversion of garages into offices at the Linduzulu Palace in Nongoma at the cost of R105 000 and the extension to the king’s bedroom at R140 000.

The work on the king’s bedroom involved build two archways into the adjacent bedroom and converting this area into a new bedroom with the existing bedroom being converted into a dressing room with a small lounge.

There had also been a request for construction of a R600 000 structure over the vehicle turning circle at the palace’s main entrance, R900 000 to reconstruct the king’s first house which is currently derelict, R8m to construct a new residence at Enyokeni Palace, R1.1m for upgrades and extensions at Ingwavuma Palace and R1.7m to build four new rondavels at the same palace.

A million rand had been requested to build a gym, Jacuzzi, ablutions and garages at the Kwa Khangela Palace and a R170 000 to replace the existing cold room at Dlamahlahla Palace.

DA spokesman on finance, Johan Krog, said flying in helicopters and private jets was unacceptable while all other departments were implementing austerity measures.

“If you set a budget you have to live within it. The Finance Minister (Pravin Gordhan) says he had to borrow money to balance his budget.

“Unless all departments and the Royal Household apply austerity measures we will be like Greece, which cannot service its borrowing. If the king cannot set the agenda, it is not good,” said Krog.

The ANC said on Thursday that the king was not personally responsible for the over-expenditure, putting the blame on the department which had failed to develop a comprehensive annual programme for the king.

“It is this lack of governance procedures in the department which ends up with the officials just accepting requests from the king.

“There is also a poor management of the fleet by the department which fails to recall and re-sell old vehicles when new ones are bought.

“We hope that once the royal trust is fully operational it will decrease the financial burden on the royal household,” said ANC spokesman, Senzo Mkhize.

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The Mercury