Correctional services rubbishes 'freebie' trip claims
Johannesburg - Correctional services on Sunday dismissed a report that Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula forced herself onto the guest list of a two-week UN gender summit, but failed to attend any of the sessions where she was supposed to represent SA.
The Sunday Times reported that Mapisa-Nqakula and the delegates stayed at five-star hotels, including the exclusive Ritz Carlton on Central Park, where prices start at R5 500 a night.
"During this time Minister Mapisa-Nqakula never stayed at the Ritz Hotel on Central Park as claimed by the Sunday Times," the department's spokesperson Sonwabo Mbananga said in a statement.
"The reasons why Minister Mapisa-Nqakula would not have been able to attend many of the UN Summit's sessions were also explained to the Sunday Times... but they chose to ignore these."
The 49-member delegation, which included three ministers, five deputies, three MPs and 38 other government officials - the largest delegation of any country - were sent to attend the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in late February and early March.
The South Africans included Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana, who led the group, Mapisa-Nqakula, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and deputy ministers Elizabeth Thabethe of trade and industry, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu of public works, Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu, her health counterpart Gwen Ramokgopa and Deputy Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.
Size of delegation
According to The Sunday Times Mapisa-Nqakula failed to attend any of the sessions.
All members of the delegation flew on return business class tickets on SAA at a cost of R81 104 per person. The South African mission at the United Nations had complained to the international relations department about the size of the delegation.
The SA UN embassy was reportedly particularly irked by Mapisa-Nqakula who, despite forcing her way onto the guest list, failed to attend a single session of the two-week summit, according to the Sunday Times.
Mbananga said it was not possible for Mapisa-Nqakula to attend every session of the summit, as she had officially gone on a study tour of prison security with her New York counterparts.
"The minister is busy with the business of correctional services and that's what she was there for... ."
Mbananga said Mapisa-Nqakula had received permission from President Jacob Zuma to undertake the New York trip.
He showed The Sunday Times a copy of the letter signed by an official in Zuma's office granting her permission for the prisons study tour.
The letter, however, stipulates Mapisa-Nqakula would "take advantage" of the tour to attend the summit.
A government official on the trip told the Sunday Times most members of the South African delegation who did not make it into the conference venue spent their time shopping and clubbing in New York.
Correctional services said it had never received any complaint regarding the minister's stay in New York.
"Also it would not have been possible for the SA's ambassador to the UN to have made such a complaint, as the ambassador was always aware of Minister Mapisa-Nqakula's whereabouts and purpose of her presence in the State of New York as Minister Mapisa-Nqakula's study tour to that State was co-ordinated by South Africa's Consul General in New York," the statement read.