08/10/2010 Tina Joemat Pettersson Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries during the AgriSA congress, held at Mulderdrift Roodepoort. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Cape Town -

President Zuma should consider reprimanding Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson for the reckless use of public funds during her lengthy stays at expensive hotels and guesthouses, says Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Madonsela has also recommended that Joemat-Pettersson repay R151 878 of public money spent on plane tickets for her children and an au pair during a Christmas trip to Sweden in 2009, and that the “Prestige Accommodation Portfolio of Ministers” be removed from the “grossly incompetent” Department of Public Works or at least be more closely monitored by the Presidency.

These are among the major findings of Madonsela’s report, Costly Moves, of an investigation following a complaint by the DA’s Dr Lourie Bosman last year that Joemat-Pettersson had violated the Executive Ethics Code.

Bosman alleged that Joemat-Pettersson had violated the code by:

* Recklessly using public funds in occupying expensive accommodation at 4- and 5-star hotels and guesthouses virtually every day for the first nine months of her tenure while waiting for official residences in Pretoria and Cape Town to be allocated to her, racking up a bill of R900 795.

* Undertaking an “official trip” to Sweden at state expense in December 2009, which the DA believed was a Christmas holiday with her children aimed at visiting her family.

In her report released on Monday, Madonsela found that Joemat-Pettersson had stayed at a Johannesburg guesthouse in June-July 2010 at a total cost of R420 000 – during the Soccer World Cup when accommodation costs were inflated – and at the Peermont D’Oreale Grande Hotel at a cost of R8 085 per night.

Both amounts involved were “unconscionably excessive”, Madonsela found. She said Joemat-Pettersson’s justification of the costs – that she needed extra room for her family – was “reasonable” as she was entitled to family-sized accommodation considering the length of time she spent in hotels and guesthouses, due to the “inconceivable tardiness” of the Department of Public Works.

“However, [her] defence of ignorance of the costs involved, though accepted, is a cause for serious concern as she displayed a blank-cheque attitude towards public funds... The conclusion that her conduct amounted to reckless use of public funds, was improper and unethical, is accordingly justified.”

Referring to Joemat-Pettersson’s Swedish trip, Madonsela found that the trip had been of an official nature and had been combined with a family holiday starting on December 23, but that the minister had been recalled by the Presidency on January 1, 2010.

The R151 878 cost of the return trips for Joemat-Pettersson’s children and au pair had been paid for by the state, in violation of the provisions of the Ministerial Handbook.

Madonsela upheld Joemat-Pettersson’s justification that she’d been advised by her chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, that the department had to pay for the tickets.

Bopape had not exercised the necessary due diligence and prudence in handling state finances; had been reckless and had acted in an improper manner; and had “violated the bounds of reasonableness” and the Public Finance Management Act.

Zuma should consider reprimanding Joemat-Pettersson for violating the Executive Ethics Code, and the acting director-general of Joemat-Pettersson’s department should recover the “unlawfully” spent R151 858 and take action against Bopape.

The minister of public works should take urgent steps to complete Joemat-Pettersson’s Cape Town residence.

Bosman welcomed Madonsela’s findings but said Joemat-Pettersson should be fired.

The minister’s department said they would first study the report and would respond after.

* Joemat-Pettersson is still under investigation by Madonsela’s office’s following another complaint from the DA over her alleged failure to effectively perform her ministerial duties, and her department is being investigated for its management of tender procedures following the withdrawal of the R800 million contract to Sekunjalo to manage the fisheries research and patrol fleet.

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Cape Argus