Minister racked up R1.6m in chartered flights

2011-12-15 13:13
Xolani Mbanjwa
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who is being investigated by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela over hotel bills of R1.6 million, has also racked up R1.6 million in chartered flights in 20 months.

It emerged today that Joemat-Pettersson, who is being probed by Madonsela for allegedly breaching the Executive Member’s Ethics Code for splurging on accommodation, chartered four local flights and two international flights in less than two years.

Joemat-Pettersson is the only minister known to have chartered flights, locally or internationally, apart from International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who has racked up a bill of R20 million while flying around the world.

In a reply to Parliamentary questions posed by Cope MP Deidre Carter, Joemat-Pettersson revealed that she was forced to charter a plane from Cape Town to meet President Jacob Zuma in his homestead in Nkandla in August this year.

In September last year she chartered another flight to Cairo, Egypt, to do “advance work” prior to Zuma’s visit to that country and claims that there were no commercial flights available to fly her to Egypt and be back in time to brief Zuma about his visit.

In another case in November last year, Joemat-Pettersson claims she was also forced to hire a plane because she had “official meetings in Gauteng and thereafter official meetings in the Northern Cape”.

She also hired another plane for her and her officials to travel between North West, Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo to conduct “an overview and assessment of the flood hit areas” on January 16 last year.

Joemat-Pettersson, who had blamed her officials for bungling her accommodation, leading to hotel stays, chartered another private plane from Kimberley to Oudtshoorn, then Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal and in Johannesburg between September 2 and 3 last year to “attend meetings”.

She refused to divulge how much a botched three-day trip to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), cost the taxpayers after her DRC counterpart, Rigobert Maboundou, cancelled their meeting “at short notice” in February last year.

The total cost of the chartered flights come to R1 641 399.90.

Joemat-Pettersson told reporters last month that she did not need taxpayers’ money to live the good life as she was getting R200 000 a month in child support from her late husband’s estate and owns a house and a flat in Sweden.

Joemat-Pettersson’s spokesperson, Selby Bokaba, said each decision to charter a plane was a “painful” decision that was taken as a “last resort under extraordinary circumstances”.

“It’s not only a cost factor, it’s the duration of the flight. If you need to go to an African country, sometimes you need to go to Europe and back to that country. It’s not desirable. It’s got nothing to do with luxury or waste of taxpayers’ money.

 It’s uncomfortable to take these decisions, but we have to work,” said Bokaba.

The minister was looking forward to the outcome of Madonsela’s investigation.

“We don’t want to hide behind the Ministerial Handbook. We look at the circumstances of each case and look at what is humanly possible,” said Bokaba.