Envoy ducks hotel bill

2015-01-25 18:00

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South Africa’s high commissioner to Cameroon has gone AWOL after racking up R39?000 at a luxury hotel and R230?000 in salary overpayments.

Zanele Makina, who was posted to Cameroon in 2013, owes the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) €18?000 (R230 000) for salary overpayments she’s received since arriving in that country.

A senior diplomat, who asked not to named, said it was standard practice for the department to pay diplomats and staff at embassies in advance when they are deployed to a country.

But the money is later deducted from their salaries.

“All diplomats stationed locally or abroad, as well as staff, sign an acknowledgement of debt form in advance in which they give consent to Dirco to reclaim from them any monies arising from salary overpayments,” said the diplomat.

“This policy leaves the onus on diplomats and staff to notify Dirco of any overpayments. Failure to do so is tantamount to dishonesty.”

Makina is also said to owe a luxury hotel, the four-star Hilton in the capital, Yaoundé, about 2?million CFA francs – about R39?000 – after she checked herself in for weeks at the hotel following her appointment.

The department is said to have told Makina to settle the bill herself since she had stayed for longer than the number of days for which she had been booked.

Her actions are said to have soured relations between Dirco and the hotel, which used to put up South African diplomats at discounted rates and often allowed them to settle their bills at a later stage.

“After numerous failed attempts for settlement of her personal bill, the hotel unilaterally terminated a contract it entered into with Dirco allowing SA diplomats and staff to stay at the hotel at discounted prices with monthly invoicing or settlement options by the department.

“This means they will now have to settle their hotel accommodation upfront and check in at the hotel at normal, highly priced rates,” said the diplomatic source.

A room at the hotel costs between R2?500 and R3?500 a night. Efforts to contact the hotel drew a blank this week.

Makina is also said to owe a local travel agency, Satguru Travel, about 9?million CFA francs (R175?000) incurred as a result of her personal travel arrangements.

Other creditors she left high and dry in Yaoundé are also said to have been battling to reach her. Dirco has been unable to locate her.

“None of the staff at the SA High Commission in Yaoundé have any clue of her whereabouts; she was last seen in December,” it said.

Morale at the embassy is said to be at an all-time low with allegations of reckless and irregular spending attributed to Makina by staff who allege she has been misusing the mission’s funds.

Dirco is said to have sent a team of auditors to the country last year to conduct a comprehensive audit of finances, but has apparently been keeping the findings of the audit under wraps.

Makina, a former chairperson of the ANC Women’s League in the Eastern Cape, is no stranger to controversy.

At the end of her tenure as SA high commissioner in Singapore in 2008, she allegedly stripped her office of valuable art portraits belonging to Dirco and took them to South Africa with her.

She was allegedly forced to return them to Singapore and pay for the shipment.

City Press contacted Makina on a cellphone with a Cameroonian number, but she refused to comment on her spending, her whereabouts or whether she was still the high commissioner. She then ended the call.

Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the department was looking into the allegations levelled against Makina.

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