We were spoiled for choice with zeroes this week, which is never a good sign.
That the National Council of Provinces passed the Secrecy Bill was not too much of a shock, but it still raises major concerns about the intentions of government in this regard.
The Bill stands to limit public access to classified state information and jeopardises whistleblowers, and we think approving the Bill was a zero decision by the council.
Our main zero, though, is Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Flying her children and their nanny home from a holiday in Sweden – using the public purse – has landed her in hot water.
No one likes cutting short a family break for work, especially when that break is taking place in snowy Sweden over the festive season.
But on 1 January 2010, Joemat-Pettersson had to pack her bags and return home when she was recalled by the president. A red flag was raised over who paid for those return flights, among other costs.
It was reported earlier this week that she travelled to Sweden in December 2009 on official business. The trip was combined with a family holiday, which started at the end of the official trip on 23 December. But that family holiday was cut short. In her report into the minister’s spending, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that the return trips of the minister’s children and au pair were paid for by the state in violation of the provisions of the Ministerial Handbook.
A day later, Joemat-Pettersson told the media that under the recommendation of her former chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, she was under the impression that the government would foot the bill for the flights for her two children and their au pair from the Scandinavian country. This cost the public over R150 000.
Madonsela, who investigated the matter and found that Joemat-Pettersson had acted unlawfully in the way she used public funds, has recommended that the minister be reprimanded and that she pay back all the money spent on the tickets for her family and the nanny.
The rules governing ministers’ expenses are contained in the Ministerial Handbook. It is 12 chapters long and clearly states the rights and regulations of our public servants. In Chapter 6, article 3.4 it points out: “dependent children who accompany their parents on official visits abroad do so at the costs of the parents”. There is no mention of who pays for the au pair.
But it is not the only controversy swirling around the minister and her use of the public purse investigated by the public protector. Joemat-Pettersson also racked up a bill of more than R600 000 at two top hotels in Johannesburg that same year; they were the Oxford Guest House from June 13 to July 11, 2010, costing R420 000, and the Peermont D’Oreale Grande Hotel at a cost of R289 352, according to IOL news.
Regarding these expenses, Madonsela said Joemat-Pettersson “displayed a blank cheque attitude towards public funds”. “Therefore, the conclusion that her conduct amounted to reckless use of public funds, was improper and unethical, is accordingly justified.”
We asked what you thought on our Corruption Watch Facebook page; every single response called for Joemat-Pettersson to be reprimanded. Many called for her to repay the money, and some for her to be fired. Lorna Bannatyne, for example, asked how the minister’s actions differed from stealing. It was a common sentiment.
President Jacob Zuma has not issued on a statement yet, but Corruption Watch will be keeping an eye on whether the matter is dealt with or ignored.