/ 6 November 2007

ANC’s ‘very, very expensive’ lounge

The African National Congress (ANC) will not financially benefit from a business lounge set up on the sidelines of its national conference in Polokwane in December.

”We, as a private company will decide what we want to do with the money,” said Nic Wolpe, the project organiser for Network Lounge, the company which will be running the facility.

According to Business Day, 30 businesses have already applied for stalls — at a reported cost of R5-million each — in the lounge, which will be housed in a luxury tent metres from the ANC’s main plenary hall and will have alcohol and cigars on offer.

Wolpe said all exhibitions costs paid by the businesses involved would go to the company and not to the ANC. He would elaborate on the costs.

”It’s very, very expensive and top class, but I cannot give out the figures,” he said.

He has reportedly described the lounge as a commercialised, informal lobbying environment not dissimilar to those in Britain and the United States.

Wolpe ran a similar lounge at the ANC’s 2002 national conference in Stellenbosch.

The ANC has confirmed giving space to Wolpe’s company at the conference.

However, it had nothing to do with the money raised, said ANC spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso.

”We do not control the funds as it is purely a call made by that company and not the party,” he said, adding that the activities in the lounge were also none of the ANC’s business.

”We have never spoken about any amount to be paid. It is the businesses’ own decision as to whether they will pay or not,” he told the Mail & Guardian Online.

”We have invited businesses to the conference to participate, as the conference is not only about the leadership issue but also about economic issues.”

DA concerns

On Monday, DA national spokesperson Donald Lee raised concerns that the SA taxpayer could end up paying R40-million.

He said at the ANC’s 2002 conference in Stellenbosch, 11 of the 29 organisations that paid to exhibit and gain access to the conference lounge were either national government departments or public entities.

”Given that 30 ‘businesses’ are reported to have paid R5-million each to ‘secure’ their place in the networking lounge at the 2007 ANC conference, representation from national government departments and state-owned enterprises similar to 2002 could set the taxpayer back up to R40-million,” said Lee.

Rikhotso said: ”We have invited businesses across the board to participate and be part of the event. You will find socialists and capitalists, everyone. Neither have we ever spoken about government departments attending. We do not know were they get these claims from.”

”The Democratic Alliance must find work to do and stop interfering with issues that do not concern them.”

”The Network Lounge is a private entity with it’s own way of operating things and we are not involved in how it conducts its business,” said Rikhotso.

”We are just there to run a conference and gave them the opportunity. Nothing more”, he said. – Sapa