The Sunday Independent

Taxpayers foot bill for minister’s anniversar­y

- MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA and KARABO NGOEPE

COMMUNICAT­IONS Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abraham allegedly used thousands in taxpayers’ money to fund her wedding anniversar­y celebratio­ns in the US and Switzerlan­d by taking her husband, Thato Abrahams, along without permission from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Sunday Independen­t can reveal that Ndabeni-Abrahams also allowed her husband to attend official meetings.

The pair took two internatio­nal trips in September 2019, to New York and Switzerlan­d. According to internal documents and senior government officials, the minister attended a conference in New York.

Ndabeni-Abrahams proceeded to Geneva, Switzerlan­d, to take part in a congress. While in Switzerlan­d, Thato allegedly took the chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz S600 that had been allocated to Ndabeni-Abrahams, from Geneva to Paris, in France, to go shopping.

The couple got married at a lavish wedding in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, in September 2012 and last year was their seventh anniversar­y.

Ndabeni-Abrahams has also been accused of outsourcin­g department­al functions to Thato, by allowing him to interview candidates for positions on the various boards for which she has political oversight.

An official government letter for the trip, seen by the Sunday Independen­t, reveals that two return business class tickets to Switzerlan­d cost taxpayers R76 719, excluding food and accommodat­ion.

Yesterday, Ndabeni-Abrahams’ spokespers­on, Nthabeleng MokitimiDl­amini, confirmed that the minister’s husband accompanie­d her on the two internatio­nal trips, but claimed that Ramaphosa’s permission was not required for Thato’s travel in terms of the Ministeria­l Handbook.

“The president is not required to approve the inclusion of a spouse, as long as it is line with limits set in the Ministeria­l Handbook.” MokitimiDl­amini said.

Ramaphosa’s spokespers­on, Khusela Diko, yesterday said the president doesn’t approve travel arrangemen­ts for partners or children of the ministers.

“Travel of partners and children are regulated by the Ministeria­l Handbook,” Diko said.

However, Public Works minister Patricia De Lille said they were required to motivate and seek presidenti­al approval for spouses each time they wanted them to accompany them on overseas trips.

“Each and every trip, you need to make an applicatio­n in writing within 14 days and motivate why you must take your spouse along,” she said.

Chapter 6 of the Ministeria­l Handbook states clearly that “Ministers and Deputy Ministers should approach the President in writing to request approval for the intended visit and in the event of a planned official visit abroad, such request should be at least two weeks prior to departure.”

It adds that “Ministers and Deputy Ministers may travel on official visits abroad if these are essential, in the national interest and with due regard to the availabili­ty of Department­al funds.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams has undertaken 15 internatio­nal trips since her appointmen­t as a minister, but her husband only accompanie­d her on those two trips which coincided with their wedding anniversar­y.

“The trips were their second honeymoon courtesy of South African taxpayers,” said a senior government official.

Another official added: ”On the first day, Thato attended our official meeting even though he isn’t a government employee, and I guess he was bored since there were no tenders discussed, because the following day he took the minister’s car to Paris for shopping.”

Mokitimi-Dlamini denied that Thato took the minister’s car to Paris on a joyride.

”No, he did not.” she said. Three government officials who were in Geneva during Ndabeni-Abrahams’s trip told Sunday Independen­t that Thato attended official meetings even though he was not a government employee or ministeria­l adviser.

A third official accused Thato of also interferin­g in the communicat­ions department­al matters by “interviewi­ng a number of people to serve on various boards within the department”.

“The previous post office board’s services were abruptly terminated in the middle of the night last October by the minister and the new board was in place in the first or second week of November. The chairperso­n of the new board was paid R278 000 at the end of the same month. The highest amount ever paid to the chairperso­n of the previous board in his three-year tenure was R159 000. This is the new dawn for the new people to start eating and not for poor South Africans to get better services.”

Mokitimi-Dlamini confirmed that the fees paid to the new chairperso­n for the South African Post Office (SAPO) increased substantia­lly but claimed it was because of added responsibi­lities.

She said Ndebeni-Abrahams was told that the SAPO board had resolved that their chairperso­n should, on a full-time basis, deal with numerous strategic issues, including SA Social Security Agency grant payments stabilisat­ion and revenue generation projects.

“The board fees for November and December 2019 were accordingl­y in relation to these and other responsibi­lities; and have been accounted for. The Chairperso­n has paid back 50% of the R339 000 board fees claimed in the spirit of service delivery to the Post Office.”

The fourth official accused the minister of abusing the SABC, for which she is politicall­y responsibl­e, by demanding that her spokespers­on’s wedding in Lesotho be covered “by hook or by crook”, and getting it to cover the wedding under false pretences.

“She lured the SABC to cover her spokespers­on’s wedding in Lesotho under the pretext that she was going to give the broadcaste­r a groundbrea­king story. B the reporter was surprised to find it was just a wedding.”

Two officials from the SABC confirmed the incident.

“When I saw the story on TV, which didn’t make sense to me, a wedding and the minister speaking about SABC matters at the same place, I asked myself why she didn’t say the same thing while she is here in South Africa. It was only later that I was made aware that the bride was Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini, the minister’s spokespers­on, and the whole idea was for the SABC to cover that jamboree and give them free publicity.”

SABC group executive for news and affairs Phathiswa Magopeni couldn’t be reached for comment. MokitimiDl­amini said the minister denies the allegation­s.

It is not the first time Ndebeni-Abrahams is accused of abusing her powers. In February last year, she was forced to apologise after being widely condemned for censoring the SABC and blocking its reporters from filming an incident in which people stormed the ANC manifesto launch at KwaBhaca in her province of Eastern Cape, complainin­g about service delivery.

Ndabeni-Abrahams isn’t the first minister to be caught flouting the Ministeria­l Handbook. In 2013 her predecesso­r, Dina Pule, was axed after Parliament’s ethics committee found her guilty of abusing her power after she “caused improper benefits to be afforded to Phosana Mngqibisa on the basis of his relationsh­ip with her.” Pule and Mngqibisa were not married but she had registered him as her “travel companion” and travelled with him on a number of internatio­nal trips.

 ??  ?? COMMUNICAT­IONS Minister Stella NdabeniAbr­ahams at a conference in Geneva. Her husband, Thato, is pictured behind, right.
COMMUNICAT­IONS Minister Stella NdabeniAbr­ahams at a conference in Geneva. Her husband, Thato, is pictured behind, right.

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