Jet-setting king shock

2012-11-23 00:00

THE Royal Household department yesterday shocked the finance portfolio committee by claiming that its over-expenditure was due to King Goodwill Zwelithini jetting around in choppers and private jets.

It was also found that the department’s highest monthly creditor was a travel agent who was getting R819 654 a month.

However, the Finance Committee which met with the department yesterday was not buying the explanation just yet. It requested a complete breakdown of the travel costs, which should include the events attended, entourage size and the modes of transport used.

The monarch had previously complained that he was sick and tired of officials from this department using his name to cover up their incompetence every time issues of over-expenditure came up.

Finance Committee chairperson Belinda Scott said previously Subsistence and Travel (S&T) had to do with cars and hotel accommodation, “paying for choppers and private jets feels more alarming.”

Earlier this year the department was found to have overspent on its budget by some R4 million and were asked to explain.

The department, in its written response to the committee ,said the high travel cost was because of the large number of engagements the King had in the year that he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his monarchy.

He had to attend King Shaka Day celebrations in KZN and in Gauteng and other government events where he was accompanied by a big delegation of Abantwana (princes and princesses).

According to the officials, he also “sent big delegations to weddings and funerals in other royal families in KZN and the Eastern Cape. When attending these activities, his majesty the king sometimes used choppers and private jets”.

The department went on to say that it was practically impossible for the department to control the king’s activities. Scott said she could not understand how the king gets a private jet. “I cannot fathom how these massive expenses are incurred when there is no money.”

She added that she was not picking on the department. “The unfortunate thing for us in the legislature is that we cannot treat the Royal Household any differently from other departments.”

Roman Liptak of the IFP said he had a very high regard for the king but he was concerned that this type of expenditure was not giving the monarch a good name in the eyes of taxpayers and also made a mockery of the poorest of the poor. “The king cannot have runaway expenses in private jets and choppers while we do not have enough money for education and health,” he said

Acting head of the Royal Household Department and provincial director-general Nhlanhla Ngidi, said there were times when there was good reason for the King to have a faster mode of transport.

“Once he had to travel to Mtubatuba, but because of the demands of tradition and custom, he could not be away [from home] after dark. As a department we had to ensure that he returned from Mtubatuba before dark and did not fall foul of tradition and custom,” Ngidi said, adding that a government official could not tell the king that he could not keep tradition.

Ngidi said at another time a chopper had to be chartered when the king fell ill in Newcastle and had to be rushed to hospital in Durban.

He said he would ask Premier Zweli Mkhize to raise certain issues with the King.

“Some issues cannot be solved at an administrative level and must be solved at a political level,” he said

Scott told members of the Treasury that they would also have to account for this. “You have got to get financial management controls in place in the Royal Household Department,” she said.

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