Manyi unapologetic over ANC birthday party

By Drum Digital
30 March 2012

Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi is "unapologetic" about the number of government employees who attended the ANC's centenary celebrations at the end of last year.

Manyi said in an interview with Sapa on Thursday that the presence of government officials at the event was "not a secret", as they had a role to play in Mangaung.

"We were there unapologetically," he said. "Government had a role to play there. This is not a crime.

"The issue here is that this was a continental event. There were lots of other heads of state. It was not an ANC rally."

Manyi said there was a protocol when heads of state visited South Africa.

Government employees had to ensure that the security and other needs of those heads of state were looked after.

"The government has to employ officials to take care of that.

"That we are not hiding."

Manyi said hundreds of government employees travelled to Mangaung in January on official business without going to the event.

He said a question asked by the Democratic Alliance in Parliament on how much the event had cost the taxpayer was "misleading".

"They ask you were any officials in Mangaung in December and January, you say yes or no and they want relevant details.

"The situation is that in January or any other month government officials are all over the country.

"Some officials were in Mangaung for other business. They came back without attending the centenary."

The DA's question was "simplistic" and aimed at eliciting an answer and creating confusion.

Manyi said it was difficult to calculate how much had been spent on sending officials to the event as many had gone to the city on official business.

He said the DA could interrogate him when the government submitted its annual report to Parliament.

"They can sit there and wait for the annual report and can ask line by line. There is no running away here. They have an opportunity to ask anything and everything they want to."

DA federal chairman Wilmot James, who asked the question in Parliament, said on Thursday that Manyi was "going to great lengths" to ensure that the amount of public money spent on the ANC's centenary celebrations in January remained hidden.

He said a leaked Government and Communication Information System (GCIS) memo, which was in the DA's possession, offered an insight into Manyi's "machinations".

The document entitled "Guidelines for replying to written parliamentary questions on official visits to Bloemfontein" was circulated by Manyi to all government communicators on Monday.

It instructed officials to avoid the parliamentary question by "referring the questioning DA MP to annual reports to find the information", and to make the argument that it is "not peculiar to have officials travelling to Bloemfontein, or any part of the country for that matter, for official business".

Communicators also had to defend officials' trips on the basis that "Government is confident that their Mangaung experience will help shape them into public servants that serve their country with humility".

The instruction was followed up by a media statement by Manyi rebutting the DA's question.

James responded that Manyi's arguments were irrelevant to the core issue that government money was used for a party celebration.

On Wednesday, an email was sent to government communicators telling them not to respond using the suggested guidelines "until further notice".

A new set of guidelines was sent on Thursday morning.

According to James, the document stated "the old line" that only officials who "happened" to be in Bloemfontein attended the celebration and that those who did would somehow gain "humility" from the experience was gone.

"The new line is that 'a number of state agencies and departments were mandated to make preparations as part of the courtesies extended to any President/Head of State visiting a country'," the document allegedly said.

James said Manyi's "bland and generic responses" were designed to shut down the DA's very specific request for information.

"These attempts to deflect away from the real issue do not fool us," he said.

"If government can justify spending money on government officials travelling to Mangaung why can't it tell us how much was spent and who went.

"Is it because the numbers are so large that they will cause a public outcry regardless of the explanation cooked up by Manyi's spin machine," he asked.

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