Reports that Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu spent R11-million for chartered flights on a Gulfstream jet while she was defence minister showed a staggering abuse of public money, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Sunday.
"This is a staggering abuse of public money and almost certainly contravenes the guidelines set out in the [Ministerial Handbook]," said DA defence spokesperson David Maynier in a statement.
"The fact is that Lindiwe Sisulu was zooming up and down the country on a massively expensive Gulfstream jet when she could have – and should have – been using cheaper commercial flights such as South African Airways."
The Sunday Times reported earlier that Sisulu accused Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula of lying about the number of flights Sisulu took between September 2009 and February 2012.
Letters and documents show Sisulu racked up an R11-million bill for chartered flights on a Gulfstream jet while she was defence minister, the newspaper reported.
Mapisa-Nqakula, in a written response to Parliament in October 2012, said Sisulu had taken 203 flights on the private jet. Sisulu has insisted she took only 35.
Legal action against Mapisa-Nqakula
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Sisulu vowed to clear her name and confirmed she was considering legal action against her Cabinet colleague.
"I want that expunged from my records with necessary apology and necessary remedy. I will not have it. I've worked very hard for this government and my reputation is not going to be sacrificed on something silly like that."
Maynier remarked that since Sisulu thought the millions of rands spent on travelling on Gulfstream jets was "something silly", it suggested that she was out of touch with the reality in South Africa.
"Since then, all my parliamentary questions trying to get to the bottom of how many flights Lindiwe Sisulu actually undertook on Gulfstream jets have been stonewalled in Parliament," he said.
This was despite the intervention of the leader of government business, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu.
"We have to get to the bottom of this matter. We need all the facts to be made public."
Maynier said he would write to auditor general Kimi Makwetu requesting him to conduct an audit to find out how many flights Sisulu took on Gulfstream jets between 2009 and 2012.
He would also request Makwetu to determine whether the guidelines for chartered air services set out in the Ministerial Handbook and the relevant National Treasury regulations were followed by Sisulu.
The Sunday Times reported it was in possession of nine letters about the issue sent between the offices of Sisulu, Mapisa-Nqakula and Motlanthe – as head of government business.
On November 9, 2012, Sisulu wrote to Mapisa-Nqakula:" The answer you gave was wrong and I am of the opinion that this was deliberate."
She asked Mapisa-Nqakula to withdraw the answer.
On the same day Sisulu wrote to Motlanthe to insist Mapisa-Nqakula's answer was "not true".
Mapisa-Nqakula through her spokesperson Joy Peter, said she would not respond to Sisulu's comments because she was dealing with the matter through Motlanthe's office. – Sapa