Travelgate MPs may end up not paying a cent

By Karyn Maughan Time of article published May 24, 2008

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Question: What do two ministers, the Free State premier, one of the Scorpions' most vocal critics and the MP who threatened to take the Springboks' passports away all have in common?

Answer: They are all listed as owing thousands of rands connected to the Travelgate fraud - and not one of them has paid a cent.

This was revealed after two creditors of alleged travel scam agency Bathong Travel brought an urgent Cape high court application to stop parliament from writing off claims, totalling just under R6 million, against MPs who did business with the company.

The 220-strong list, which also contains the names of MPs who paid back their debts, includes portfolio committee on sports and recreation chairman Butana Komphela, who made headlines with his controversial "transformation threats" against South Africa's national rugby team.

According to the list, Komphela is contesting a court order that he pay back R55 540.

The list also reveals that, despite pleading guilty to theft charges linked to the travel fraud in 2006, Komphela's fellow sports committee member Tsietsi Louw - who criticised Mpumalanga Rugby Union president Hein Mentz for his inclusion of convicted Waterkloof Four killer Gert van Schalkwyk in the Pumas - has only paid R30 000 of the R120 975 he allegedly owed.

Chairman of the national assembly Dr Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele, who heads the joint standing committee of intelligence, made headlines after he blasted the Scorpions over its controversial Special Browse Mole Report on ANC president Jacob Zuma. He is contesting a judgment that he pay back R28 659 to Bathong's creditors.

The list also shows that Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has not paid a cent of the R43 708 she allegedly owes, while Land Affairs and Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana is fighting not to cough up the R63 064 debt against her name.

Other names on the list include:

  • Madiepetsane Charlotte Lobe - ANC provincial secretary in the Free State and spokesperson for the ANC Women's League, who famously wore a cleaner's uniform and no shoes in protest against the racial abuse of cleaning staff at Free State University. She allegedly owes R147 979.

  • Pietos Mathebe - ANC Limpopo MP and member of the portfolio committee on home affairs. His alleged debt, R302 745, is the biggest on the list. He has reportedly claimed he was paying off the debt in instalments.

  • Lassy Chiwayo - former ANC MP and presidential candidate for the ANC Youth League who is now in business. He allegedly owes R23 954.

  • Onewang Rebecca Kastenyane - ANC MP and chairman of the portfolio committee on labour. Her alleged debt totals R104 678.

    Should parliament have its way, the ministers, Komphela and dozens of other MPs - most of whom are ANC members - will not only have to pay their alleged Travelgate debts, they will also be paid back whatever legal fees they rang up in fighting the claims.

    This, according to two legal experts consulted on the matter, could result in taxpayers footing a "very substantial" legal bill.

    Parliament will, however, first have to answer some uncomfortable accusations that it colluded with Bathong's liquidators to stop the recovery of MPs' alleged debts.

    The claims were made by Jackson & Neethling Chartered Accountants and Flare Beverages, two of the Bathong creditors, who took legal action after parliament published a tiny notice in the Government Gazette, revealing that it would ask creditors of Bathong to instruct liquidators "to cease all other litigation as against the members of parliament in relation to all 'vouchers' that may have been utilised by Bathong Travel or its directors or shareholders".

    It further stated that liquidators would be told not "to pursue any action as against the various members of parliament in relation to the un-invoiced tickets, levies and/or services".

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