In a weak attempt to justify the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini's extravagant hotel stays, spokesperson Lumka Oliphant reportedly said that 'the very nature of the minister's work is working with the poor, who are in very rural areas of the country and which require her to be constantly out of the office together with her staff'.
An analysis of the Minister's hotel stays (which cost the public more than R760 000 and kept her lavishly accommodated for 166 nights between June 2009 and August 2011) shows that the Minister spent 132 nights (80% of her accommodated stays) in metro cities, including:
• 85 nights in Cape Town;
• 12 nights in Durban;
• 2 nights in Johannesburg;
• 31 nights in Pretoria; and
• 2 nights in Bloemfontein.
It is not clear how this brought the Minister closer to the "very rural areas" she apparently frequents.
The Minister's hotel preferences also hardly show that she was spending her time "out of the office" immersed in poor communities. Over the period for which we received information from the Department, she spent:
• 53 nights in the Radison Blu Hotel in Cape Town;
• 26 nights in the Westin Grand Arabella Quays in Cape Town;
• 5 nights in the One & Only hotel in Cape Town; and
• 12 nights in the Hilton in Durban.
Her 96 nights in these luxury establishments cost the public R505 952 (or 67% of her total accommodation bill).
Oliphant also claims that Minister Dlamini did not go on a spending spree, and that many of her stays were in guesthouses. According to the information received, Minister Dlamini indeed spent around 46 nights in establishments which could be considered "guest houses". The average cost of these stays, however, still came in at around R4 455 per night. The Minister clearly wasn't roughing it.
Minister Dlamini has a history of untoward travel expenses. In 2006, she was found guilty of fraud in the Travelgate Scandal in which Members of Parliament (MPs) unlawfully used travel vouchers to fund private holidays and trips. Dlamini pleaded guilty to fraud involving R254 000 and was sentenced to a fine of R120 000 or five years imprisonment and a further five years imprisonment suspended conditionally for five years.
The Minister's spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant reportedly took offence to the fact that the DA did not ask what the Minister was doing whilst she was staying in the hotels. I will today be writing to Minister Dlamini asking her to take the public into her confidence and clarify both the reasons for her visits and the justification for her obvious preference for five-star establishments.
It is hard to understand how accommodation at luxury hotels and guesthouses demonstrates that Minister Dlamini is at the forefront of alleviating poverty and improving the quality of life for the most vulnerable people in South Africa.
Mike Waters, Shadow Minister of Social Development