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Joemat-Pettersson ‘was not extravagant’

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By SAPA

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson on Tuesday rejected claims that she wasted taxpayers' money, following findings by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

“The perception by the media that the minister was extravagant is rejected with the contempt it deserves,” the ministry's spokeswoman Palesa Mokomele said in a statement.

Madonsela on Monday said President Jacob Zuma should consider reprimanding Joemat-Pettersson for violating the executive ethics code.

In her findings she said the department's acting director general should recover about R150,000 the minister incurred for return flights for her two children and their au pair from Sweden to South Africa in January 2010.

The ministry welcomed Madonsela's recommendation of remedial action. Mokomele said the ministry would develop an implementation plan and submit it to the Public Protector within the stipulated time frame.

The minister travelled to Sweden on official business in December 2009. The trip was combined with a family holiday, which started on December 23, at the end of her official trip.

However, Joemat-Pettersson had to cut the holiday short when the presidency recalled her. She returned on January 1, 2010.

Mokomele said the minister had paid for the original tickets and accommodation for her children and their au pair, but did not cover the costs of the changes to the tickets.

She said Joemat-Pettersson would have purchased new return tickets for all three if she had been correctly advised.

The Protector found the minister's former chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, wrongfully advised her regarding the return flights.

“Bopape provided minister Joemat-Pettersson with incorrect advice in respect of the department’s responsibility to pay for the return air tickets of the minister’s children and au pair when she was recalled from Sweden in January 2010,” Madonsela said.

It was also investigated whether Joemat-Pettersson used public funds to pay for expensive accommodation at hotels while she was awaiting the allocation of her official residences in Cape Town and Pretoria.

Joemat-Pettersson stayed at the 28A On Oxford Guest House from June 13 to July 11, 2010, for R420,000, and at the Peermont D'Oreale Grande Hotel at a cost of R289,352.

Joemat-Pettersson had not been allocated an official residence at the time.

“She (Joemat-Pettersson) stayed in a reasonably priced guesthouse in Pretoria for six months, which she vacated due to circumstances beyond her control,” Mokomele said.

“The minister spent significant time, money and personal effort to relieve the burden that her lack of accommodation was placing on the state.”

Madonsela recommended that Public Works fast-track the refurbishment of Joemat-Pettersson's official residence in Cape Town. She said the minister had been severely affected by the delay in providing accommodation.

The Protector was scathing of Bopape for the way she handled the minister's travel and accommodation expenses.

“In respect of her failure to provide minister Joemat-Pettersson with correct advice pertaining to the provisions of the Ministerial Handbook... which resulted in fruitless and wasteful expenditure for the department,” she said. - Sapa

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