Sending a 49-member delegation to a United Nations gender summit in New York was a gross misuse of public funds, the Democratic Alliance said on Monday.
Parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said the DA was stunned by reports that the delegation, which included three ministers, five deputies, three MPs and 38 other government officials — and was the largest delegation of any country — flew business class and failed to attend some of the sessions of the summit.
The delegation included Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana, who led the group, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
It also included deputy ministers Elizabeth Thabethe of trade and industry, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu of public works, Maggie Sotyu of police, Gwen Ramokgopa of health, and Hlengiwe Mkhize of higher education.
The Sunday Times reported that the delegates flew South African Airways return business class at a cost of R81 104 per person and stayed at five-star hotels, including the Ritz Carlton on Central Park, where prices started at R5 500 a night.
“We understand that the cost of this trip was at least R6,8-million. This latest expenditure scandal constitutes a gross misuse of public funds and underscores President Jacob Zuma’s insincerity when repeatedly stating his administration’s commitment to alleviating poverty, improving performance and reforming service delivery,” Trollip said in a statement.
“Such misuse of public funds, on what appears to have been a lavish two-week shopping trip, flies in the face of the sentiment expressed by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, scarcely a month ago in his budget speech, in which he stressed the need for efficient and effective use of state resources.”
Trollip said the fact that Zuma had given written consent for Mapisa-Nqakula to attend the summit after the South African mission at the UN complained about the size of the delegation made a “mockery” of the money the Presidency had pledged to save over the next three years in an effort to tackle wasteful expenditure.
According to the Sunday Times, Mapisa-Nqakula failed to attend any of the sessions.
Correctional Services spokesperson Sonwabo Mbananga told the newspaper it was not possible for Mapisa-Nqakula to attend every session of the summit as she had officially gone on a study tour of prison security with her New York counterparts.
“The minister is busy with the business of correctional services and that’s what she was there for… .”
Mbananga said Mapisa-Nqakula had received permission from President Jacob Zuma to undertake the New York trip.
Trollip said the DA would submit a series of parliamentary questions about the matter.
He said the DA wanted to know why the Zuma administration approved the attendance of such a large delegation despite knowing in advance that accreditation would be limited to two, and at most four individuals.
The party also wanted to know what the individual and overall cost of the trip was to the Treasury and what had been gained.
Questions would also be submitted to Xingwana regarding the poor attendance of the delegates.
“As the leader of the delegation, Minister Xingwana should be held responsible for the poor attendance of delegates. As the delegation’s leader she should have ensured that delegates fulfil their responsibilities by attending all summit events, especially since it seems no expense was spared to send them there in the first place,” said Trollip. — Sapa