South Africa's Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula addresses members of the country's Olympic team during an event at the South Africa House in central London, ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Pretoria -

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is to investigate allegations of fruitless and wasteful expenditure by Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula and his deputy after it emerged they spent R2.6 million on official flights in just two years.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question from DA spokesman on sport Winston Rabotapi, Mbalula said he had taken 240 flights since April 1, 2010, amounting to R1 539 196, including R747 410 spent on 16 international flights.

In the same period, his deputy Gert Oosthuizen had spent R1.1m on 105 flights, including 29 international ones costing R806 293 - surpassing even the minister’s number of international flights.

This amounted to 186 more flights than the combined total of domestic and international flights of the minister and two deputy ministers of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation for the same period, even though international travel is an essential part of their responsibilities.

Madonsela is already probing the flight costs of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who spent R1.6m since 2010.

After receiving a request for an investigation into the high-flying sport department heads from Rabotapi in March, Madonsela announced in July that the allegations warranted an investigation.

She had since assigned an investigator to the case, and the preliminary investigation had begun, her spokeswoman Kgalalelo Masibi said on Wednesday.

“The preliminary investigation will involve information gathering and contacting the sports ministry. After receiving and analysing the information, [Madonsela] will decide if she is to pursue a full investigation,” Masibi said.

In terms of the law, the preliminary investigation should be completed within a month, she said.

Rabotapi has vowed to “closely monitor the progress of the investigation and hold the minister and his deputy to account”.

He said every cent of public money was “precious and should not be wasted. Public funds should be used to develop athletes of the future and support our current crop of talented sportsmen and women”.

Mbalula’s spokesman and adviser, Justin de Allende, said the protector had contacted the ministry late on Wednesday to inform it that the preliminary investigation had begun. The ministry would co-operate fully and was “confident there will be no finding of fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as alleged”.

“All travel is part of [Mbalula’s] duties as minister of sport and in the interest of developing sport. We are not scared. We are confident.”

All travel by the minister was informed by guidelines laid out in the ministerial handbook. “We think the claims are unfounded.”

Pretoria News