News

MPs’ pricey Olympic splash

2016-05-03 11:01

Parliament’s sports portfolio committee chairperson, Beauty Dlulane, has extracted a free ride to the Rio Olympics from one of the organisations the committee oversees – without the approval of the national legislature.

City Press has seen a letter from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), the controlling body for all high-performance sports in South Africa, confirming that Dlulane and two other MPs would be “guests to join Team SA” for 10 days out of the 17-day sporting jamboree.

The document, dated April 22 2016 and signed by Sascoc president Gideon Sam, states that three MPs will fly business class from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro and back. Their accommodation, unspecified in the document, will be paid for “on a bed-and-breakfast basis”.

Sascoc is also facilitating visas and other logistical and administrative matters.

Three opposition parties reacted with surprise that the trip was billed as an “oversight visit”, since it was discussed in two committee meetings earlier this year.

Initial plans were that Dlulane, another ANC MP and a DA MP would go. But City Press has since established that the DA has officially declined to participate in the trip, saying Sascoc should be spending its money on athletes and sports development instead of on international trips for politicians and administrators.

The House chairperson responsible for committees, Cedric Frolick, who in his official capacity approves all MPs’ travel and oversight visits, told City Press he knew nothing about the sports committee’s visit to the Rio Olympics.

“Whether it is a sponsored trip or not, they must first get permission from Parliament, from my office – and I have not granted permission like that,” he said.

Frolick confirmed that he received no application by any MP from any committee to attend the Rio Olympics in their capacity as parliamentarians.

“We are not athletes; we are not competing … at this stage, there is no one from Parliament going to the Olympics,” he said.

City Press repeatedly tried to contact Dlulane over two days, but she did not respond to phone calls, SMSes or an email forwarded to her via the committee’s media facilitator.

Sam confirmed Dlulane approached Sascoc for sponsorship.

“They raised it in Parliament. They asked, ‘Are you going to invite us to go to Rio?’

“The answer they got from me was, ‘We are a bit tight, so we won’t be able to take all of you on the trip if it comes to that.’ They did ask for it,” said Sam.

Asked what MPs would do in Rio, Sam said: “Ask the chairperson of the portfolio committee if she is going on holiday. Ask Beauty [Dlulane], ‘Why are you taking money from Sascoc – are you going on holiday?’ We invited them because that is part of their mandate for oversight.”

It is understood that the sports committee agreed that only the three members would go to Rio.

Sam questioned why the media was raising this now, because it was “normal practice” for such sponsorship to take place since South Africa had returned to the Olympics in 1992.

The DA MP who declined the offer, Solly Malatsi, told City Press that the junket to Rio, “in the guise of an oversight trip, is ethically problematic”.

“How will the committee members who insist on going to Brazil remain independent and robust when Sascoc has to account to the committee?”

Malatsi described the trip as “a sponsored fiesta” that would result in Sascoc reminding the Rio-bound MPs who called the tune when the committee had to hold the controlling body to account.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Pebane Moteka said he would not be part of the trip, adding that it was ANC MPs who wanted to go to Brazil.

“How do you ask for financial support from people who account to you? It cannot be correct.”

The United Democratic Movement’s Mncedisi Filtane, who also sits on the committee, said: “I would find it very strange for the committee to be funded by Sascoc when Sascoc struggles to fund its own athletes.

“We would be seriously compromised. We are not supposed to be asking for money from an entity we oversee. I would not go on such a dirty ticket.”

According to parliamentary guidelines, Frolick must approve all committee trips in consultation with Parliament’s legal services and the Speaker.

And according to the Register of Members’ Interests published each year, MPs have to declare sponsorships, income outside Parliament and gifts greater than a stipulated value.

Sam said Dlulane wrote to Sascoc to ask about the value of the trip, telling Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy that “they need to declare that”.

Dlulane has previously run foul of parliamentary travel arrangements. She was one of the Travelgate fraudsters who accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to one count of fraud for R289 000 accrued in service benefits or mileage claims.

LACK OF FUNDING BLAMED FOR MISSED TARGETS

News24 has reported that sports such as tennis, swimming, rowing and cycling struggle to meet Sascoc’s transformation targets because they do not have enough financial backing.

Rowing SA president Sean Kerr told City Press yesterday that they received support from Sascoc in the run-up to the Olympic Games, but not in the periods when athletes needed to develop for the next Games.

He said that they had severe financial restrictions for transformation and development.

“I support [Sports] Minister [Fikile] Mbalula’s stance taken on Monday, but more funds need to be made available urgently to meet transformation targets.”

Athletics coach Ampie Louw said that it was upcoming athletes who struggled the most. “If you are good, you and your coach will at least get a pittance from Sascoc. But I feel for upcoming athletes, who sometimes do not even have money for transport to the stadium.”

He said that he was aware of several top athletes competing for South Africa on the international stage who had to foot their own bills. “It has been like that for years. I have paid thousands of rands over the years for transport and accommodation when my athletes competed in the Olympic Games.” – Rapport


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