Metros reveal the high costs of overseas travel

Cape Town - It costs a lot of money for a municipality to keep up appearances and promote itself as an investment destination, let alone paying for its officials to go on training courses, according to a reply to a parliamentary question.

For example, it cost R180 000 to send two Nelson Mandela Bay metro municipality officials to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last year. The city is hoping that its own Mandela International Film Festival will become one of the most important in the world and is busy forging relationships with people in the business.

There is also big money in hosting golf tournaments, which may be why the City of Joburg spent R128 000 for a communications official to go on an "experiential learning" trip to the British Open at St Andrews in Scotland last year.

The city hosts the Joburg Open, which brings golfers from around the world and is believed to attract an audience of more than 400 million television viewers globally. 

These figures are among a breakdown of travel costs contained in a reply to DA MP Tsepo Mhlongo. He had asked the Ministry for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs for a breakdown of what municipalities had spent to travel to international conferences, training programmes and other events.

He did this to find out whether municipalities were cutting their budgets, as promised by the Finance Minister, but was disappointed with the results.

Officials could have used 'search engines'

"Currently it appears that there haven't been efforts to cut unnecessary costs; this is evident in, for example, an international trip to South Korea, which has yielded no information nor a council resolution, neither are there costs given for the trip," Mhlongo told News24.

"There are additionally trips that do not require travelling, as much of the information can be acquired through search engines," he said.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has cracked the whip on state spending, calling on officials to spend money carefully as the country adjusts to the difficult global economic climate.

Fin24 reported in March that metropolitan municipalities are owed R64.4bn (R63.1bn reported in the first quarter) in outstanding debt as at December 31, 2015. This represents an increase of R9bn (16.3%), from the second quarter of the 2014/2015 financial year.

According to one of the breakdowns supplied, rooting for your country at overseas competitions is also an expensive business, as the City of Johannesburg discovered. A trip to support the South African team at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles and Atlanta cost R400 000 for five officials. But they did also squeeze in a study tour.

Schmoozing to get people to hold their events in South Africa and looking for ideas is also an expensive business with eThekwini spending R81 080 to send Thembinkosi Ngcobo, head of the municipality's parks, recreation and culture unit, to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. The cost for another two officials was R62 406 and R71 652.

R3m for conference

To represent the municipality at the MTV Africa Music Awards in Kenya last July cost the municipality R18 943.

It cost Ekurhuleni R568 028 to send four people to Womad (World of Music and Dance festival) in the UK between July 24 and 27. The metro almost went ahead with hosting Womad in 2015 but pulled out, saying it did not have time to put together the logistics for such a large international festival. The festival has been held in Benoni before.

But it did spend R3.1m to send nine people to a government finance officers' conference in Philadelphia, in the US.

The City of Cape Town appeared to have pulled off a number of sponsored trips, but it still had to cough up R96 000 for three officials to travel to China to investigate an electric bus system.

And, a trip by mayor Patricia De Lille and a city official to Medellín, Colombia, last year for the Cities for Global Life Global meeting cost R301 900.

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