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

2012-12-02 10:00

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Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat­ Pettersson claims she flew back to South Africa urgently – at a R400 000 cost to the taxpayer – to help out with President Jacob Zuma’s wedding.

This is revealed in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s final report into ­Joemat-Pettersson’s controversial business class flight with her two children and their au pair from Sweden to South Africa on January 1 2010.

Titled Costly Moves, Madonsela’s ­report, which was released this week, ­reveals Joemat-Pettersson and her former chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, initially would not tell investigators why she had to return from Sweden urgently at the end of 2009.

She was there on business with her children and planned a holiday afterwards, when she was called back.

Flights for herself and two officials cost R250 000.

The flights for her children and their au pair cost R151 000.

All Joemat-Pettersson initially said was that she had been urgently ­summoned home by “an authorised ­official in the office of the presidency”.

During her interview with ­Madonsela’s office, Joemat-Pettersson admitted meeting Zuma on January 2 – the day after her return – at the Melrose Arch Hotel in Johannesburg.

Madonsela said no evidence of any emergency or crisis that warranted the minister’s early return was obtained or presented during the investigation.

But Madonsela noted that investigators in her office started asking more questions after they realised January 2 was a Saturday and Zuma married ­Tobeka Madiba at his Nkandla home just two days later.

They questioned Joemat-Pettersson again and she said the “circumstances” now warranted a more detailed response than her original, “without wishing to breach the relationship of trust with the presidency”.

Then she spilled the beans. She told investigators her early return related mainly to the fact that she was needed to assist dignitaries and VIP guests “with regard to the importation of prescribed goods that they required during their stay in South Africa at the time”.

“I was under pressure to expedite that matter,” she told Madonsela’s team.

Joemat-Pettersson didn’t explicitly say these guests were attending Zuma’s wedding, but Madonsela explains in the report why she and her team believe the wedding was the reason for the minister’s urgent return.

Joemat-Pettersson was asked during questioning why she had not pointed out to the presidency how expensive the emergency flights would be.

She told investigators that speculation about whether Zuma would have agreed to postpone her return to after his wedding if he knew the costs was ­“entirely unfounded”.

“It was not for me to question his order in this regard,” Joemat-Pettersson is quoted in the report as saying.

Joemat-Pettersson this week blamed the more than R151 000 spent on her children and au pair’s flights on Bopape.

The minister told Madonsela she was advised by Bopape that the correct procedure in having the return tickets for her children approved had been followed.

“I would have purchased new return tickets for all three if I was correctly advised by Bopape that the state was not supposed to pay as per the Ministerial Handbook,” Joemat-Pettersson said.

“My children, their nanny and I have unlimited travel benefits at any time and place to any place worldwide which is paid for from the estate of my late ­husband.”

In the initial report that was leaked to the media, Bopape was ordered to pay the R151 000, but in the final report the burden was passed to the minister.

Bopape, who is now working in the ­agriculture director-general’s office, ­declined to comment.

Madonsela said on Monday that Zuma should consider reprimanding Joemat-Pettersson for violating the executive ethics code.

Joemat-Pettersson’s spokesperson this week referred City Press to the ­report when asked to comment.

The presidency did not respond to ­requests for comment.

- City Press

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