Presidential Handbook still only a draft – seven years on

2013-04-14 14:00

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe did not rely on the Presidential Handbook when undertaking a holiday trip to the Seychelles on an SA Air Force Falcon 900 last year.

Instead, he used a secret policy document, of just more than 10 pages long, which regulates travel and security for the president and his deputy, to justify the jaunt.

The document was approved by Cabinet in March 2007.

When City Press reported on Motlanthe’s trip, his spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, said the journey was in accordance with the “Presidential Manual”.

But it now seems Masebe was referring to the policy document, not a manual.

This week, the presidency refused to hand over either the handbook or the policy document to City Press.

An application for access to the documents was brought after the Seychelles story, which detailed how the state paid for an R83 000 chartered plane, was published.

The response shows that the Presidential Handbook, which is based on this policy document, is still in draft form – seven years after the Public Protector ordered that the handbook give clarity on these matters.

Presidency deputy information officer Dr Batandwa Siswana said the policy, as a Cabinet document, was secret.

He said that revealing what was in the handbook could “inhibit” deliberations about it.

Cabinet had to review the policy for presidential travel following controversy over a flight by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to the United Arab Emirates with her family at taxpayers’ expense.

According to the letter from Siswana, the Presidential Handbook, “a procedural framework for the implementation of Cabinet’s policy decision”, is “still undergoing deliberation by the relevant government officials and their political principals, where this is necessary”.

DA defence spokesperson David Maynier, who received a similar reply to his request for the handbook, said it was “simply wrong” that the policy documents regulating public expenditure on the president and his deputy were regulated by “secret rules beyond scrutiny and oversight by Parliament”.

He also said it was wrong that the handbook had taken so long to be finalised.

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