Pettersson official slams ‘reckless’ Madonsela

2012-12-13 11:49

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The official at the centre of Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s travel scandal, her former chief of staff, has lashed out at Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, accusing her of being “reckless” and of “concocting a negative ruling” in her investigations.

Bafedile Bopape claims she was victimised by Madonsela’s office.

In an emotional open letter, Bopape writes: “You said in your report that I was reckless. You are actually the one who is reckless Ms Madonsela, because you deal unfairly with the lives of people without taking into consideration the consequences thereof.”

Bopape said because of the impression Madonsela had created, the media crucified her “as if I am some criminal”.

Last month, the Public Protector’s report on Joemat-Pettersson, Costly Moves, berated Bopape for her bad advice to the minister on flights and accommodation and her reluctance to cooperate in the investigation.

But Public Protector spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi said Madonsela stood by her report as she would have arrived at the same findings regardless of who was involved.

“There is proof that the money spent, as referred to by Bopape, was not within authority nor authorised by any instrument including the Ministerial Handbook and was also unconscionable,” she said. “Any person who is not satisfied with the findings made in the report has the right to consider legal remedies which include taking the Public Protector on review.”

Masibi said Bopape was given an opportunity to respond to the provisional findings of the Public Protector and did so with her attorney.

“Her response was considered and, where applicable, incorporated into the final report,” she said. “Under the circumstances, it would serve no purpose to debate the matter in the media.”

The Public Protector launched an investigation into Joemat-Pettersson following a complaint last year that the minister had violated the Executive Ethics Code with her accommodation and flights.

Madonsela recommended that President Jacob Zuma should reprimand Joemat-Pettersson for the reckless use of public funds in her travels, and that she should repay R151 878 in public money spent on plane tickets for her children and an au pair during a Christmas trip to Sweden in 2009.

Read: ‘Joemat-­Pettersson flew back for Zuma’s wedding’

In the original report, Bopape was ordered to repay R420 000 for choosing unnecessary expensive accommodation for her minister, but the final report retracted this.

In her response to Madonsela, Joemat-Pettersson also blamed Bopape for the R15 878 she now has to repay.

The minister said she had funds to pay for new return tickets left by her late husband’s estate but was told by her then chief of staff, Bopape, that the department would cover the cost.

“I had no reason to doubt her. She had worked in the DG’s office for a while and she came highly recommended. I trusted her.”

In the letter, Bopape defends the advice she gave to Joemat-Pettersson for the Sweden tickets, saying she knew it was irregular expenditure and that she followed all due processes.

“I followed with further processes with an intention that the irregular expenditure can be dealt with in terms of paragraph 22 of the Treasury Regulations and other such regulations,” Bopape said. “In other words, the payment by government could be seen as an act of grace.”

She denied that she had authorised the flights, saying that was handled by another official. The expenditure incurred is not fruitless and wasteful “as it was not incurred in vain”, Bopape argued.

“From my perspective, the trip was occasioned by the presidency,” she said. “Without proof to the contrary, the trip was official. It cannot be in vain to travel in order to attend a meeting with the president at his behest, nor was the expenditure avoidable. If the trip was not official then I was misled to believe that it was official.”

As for Joemat-Pettersson’s claim that she would have paid for her children’s tickets herself if Bopape had advised her correctly, she said Joemat-Pettersson would have said anything to get cleared.

“But for you to agree that I did not advise her correctly is absurd,” she said. “The minister already knew that her children’s international travel is not provided for in the Ministerial Handbook hence she paid for them when she initiated her trip and also bore the substantial cost of the initial rescheduling of her children’s return trip.”

Bopape concludes her letter saying that she is a public servant and not a politician.

“I was recommended to these ministers due to my track record,” she said. “I am not going to allow you or anyone to make a scapegoat of me or ruin my career and my reputation for selfish political reasons.”

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