JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 26, Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and deputy Gert Oosthuizen during the Cricket South Africa and Minister of Sport meeting at Radisson Blu Hotel on April 26, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

Shanti Aboobaker

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 two years.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question from DA spokesman on sports and recreation 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.

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 yesterday.

“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.

She said the preliminary investigation should be completed within a month.

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

Yesterday, he said every cent of public money was “precious and should not be wasted”.

Mbalula’s spokesman and adviser, Justin de Allende, said the public protector had contacted the ministry late yesterday to inform it that the preliminary investigation had begun.

He said the ministry would co-operate fully with the investigation because it was “confident there will be no finding of fruitless and wasteful expenditure, as alleged”.