Parly’s big spender

2016-12-18 06:04
Gengezi Mgidlana. Picture: Parliament’s website

Gengezi Mgidlana. Picture: Parliament’s website

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Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana spent a whopping R44 320 on being chauffeur-driven in a Mercedes-Benz on one of his overseas trips.

In July, Mgidlana was on a “study visit” in Budapest, Hungary, where he was chauffeur-driven in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class at R8 660 per day for five days. An extra R1 020 was incurred for a taxi trip to the airport to catch a flight out of that city.

Parliament documents reveal that Mgidlana’s penchant for the good life at taxpayers’ expense continues unabated, despite an outcry from opposition MPs earlier this year.

His expensive tastes have been condemned as they took place in a year when Parliament was not paying workers’ bonuses for the first time since 1994 and was cutting down on expenses.

City Press has previously reported that Mgidlana and senior parliamentary staff spent almost R2 million in “benchmarking” trips, flying business class and staying in five-star hotels in the UK and Turkey.

While in London, Mgidlana stayed in a R14 050-per-night (R42 150 for three nights) room at the luxurious Conrad London St James Hotel.

The documents show that Mgidlana was travelling to the President Hotel in Budapest, but it is not clear whether this is where he was accommodated during the trip.

What is clear is that Mgidlana continues to spend lavishly, despite the fact that the institution he leads is not able to provide for the needs of MPs owing to cost-cutting.

Just two weeks after MPs berated him during a parliamentary debate for “wasting Parliament’s limited resources on luxury overseas trips, flying business class and staying in five-star hotels”, Mgidlana spent five nights at the swanky Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton.

His stay there – in a suite that went for R6 200 a night – cost the taxpayer R31 653, while during the day he was chauffer-driven around Johannesburg in a Mercedes-Benz. It is not clear what the chauffeur service cost.

In July, Mgidlana returned to the Michelangelo, this time occupying a condo for six nights at the rate of R7 850 per night. He also ran up a bill of R3 215 on food and R730 on beverages, leaving a total bill of R52 638 for the taxpayer to pick up.

According to a parliamentary document seen by City Press, Mgidlana was in Johannesburg for a security cluster meeting. The documents also show that a Mercedes-Benz E-Class was hired for his seven days in the city.

However, Parliament has defended Mgidlana’s expenses, saying his trips were undertaken as “strategic imperatives” to help reposition Parliament to “launch itself on to a new development trajectory for the second generation”.

Spokesperson Manelisi Wolela said the international engagements had helped the institution to remove inefficiencies in the system and improved its business processes.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete also defended Mgidlana when he came under attack from opposition MPs in May, saying his trips had been approved by his bosses.

She berated MPs for attacking a member of staff instead of dealing with the issue “according to procedures of Parliament”.

Mbete said Mgidlana’s trips were done according to policy and sanctioned by Parliament’s presiding officers and there was nothing untoward about it.

“There are structures in Parliament. There is an audit committee which, if there is a need, will look into any matter that the executive authority of Parliament actually requires them to look into,” she said at the time.

“I am shell-shocked,” said the United Democratic Movement’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa this week.

In April, Kwankwa had requested that Mbete investigate possible irregularities in the benchmarking trips to European countries that were reported earlier this year, saying it was incredibly irregular to allow junior managers to approve expenses for their superiors.

The benchmarking trips were approved by Mgidlana’s subordinates.

This week, Kwankwa told City Press that Mbete had suggested that they would put measures in place to try to cut such expenses.

He described as “arrogance” the luxury life that Mgidlana continued to live at taxpayer’s expense. “One wonders what value these trips add to Parliament.”

Kwankwa said Mgidlana would have to account to the new financial management committee of the parliamentary oversight committee about the trips.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen accused Mgidlana of behaving like a rock star, saying it was completely unacceptable for a bureaucrat to live the good life at taxpayers’ expense while the most basic functions of Parliament were being compromised because there is no money.

Steenhuisen revealed that the parliamentary library no longer had access to a number of journals that MPs use for research because subscriptions were not being renewed owing to cost-cutting.

Steenhuisen said this meant MPs were unable to do the most basic research and could not rely on parliamentary researchers, because all access to journals had been stopped.

“It is frankly outrageous, especially in an environment where Parliament is being constantly told to tighten its belt, while he throws it in everyone’s face,” he said.

The National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents a majority of Parliament staff, said it was “seriously disturbed”, but not entirely surprised, by the revelation that Mgidlana was continuing to enjoy luxuries at Parliament’s expense.

“This may be the tip of the iceberg,” said Sthembiso Tembe, chairperson of the Nehawu branch in Parliament.

Tembe listed a number of issues that Nehawu believed Mgidlana was getting away with in Parliament, including the nonpayment of performance bonuses for parliamentary workers – which he claimed was happening for the first time since 1994 – as well as the fact that Parliament was running at a 23% vacancy rate.

“It’s shameful that workers went home empty-handed; yet, he is spending money on expensive hotels.

“But every dog has its day,” said Tembe.

Mgidlana had previously paid himself a R71 000 ex gratia payment that was meant to address the lack of notch progression for Parliament employees who had worked in the institution for many years without a notch adjustment.

He paid the money to himself a mere three months after joining the institution.

Parliament responds to Mgidlana’s spending

Parliament defended Mgidlana’s expenditure, saying the trips referred to were undertaken “as a strategic imperative as the fifth democratic Parliament is saddled with a responsibility of repositioning Parliament from its first-generation achievements and challenges, and to relaunch itself on to a new development trajectory for the second generation”.

“Even in a context of cost-cutting measures adopted by Parliament a few months ago, these strategic interventions to help reposition Parliament for a new epoch cannot be sacrificed, as the cost of such omissions would be too bad to think of, including the exchange programmes, benchmarking and strengthening of South Africa’s role in the fast-evolving sphere of international legislative systems,” said Parliament’s new media manager, Manelisi Wolela.

He said all their actions and decisions were in line with international protocols such as “the imperative of getting chauffeured vehicles in the countries visited”. “The value of these trips undertaken by the secretary to Parliament and a number of executive managers continues to manifest in the current efforts of repositioning Parliament,” said Wolela.

Wolela said the international engagements have helped the institution to, among other things, remove inefficiencies in the system and have improved its business processes, and began to enhance savings, close gaps in budget management, resulting in the finances of Parliament remaining afloat and healthy, as acknowledged by the Auditor-General.

Wolela said the decision not to pay bonuses was taken after a systemic and objective analysis of the institution’s overall performance rating and its finances, including the application of the balance scorecard introduced in the previous financial year.

After the introduction of the balance scorecard, the overall performance of Parliament was below 46%, although there are a number of emerging pockets of excellence that include the attainment of the best audit opinion the Auditor-General of South Africa can grant to an institution.

Read more on:    gengezi mgidlana  |  parliament

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