South Africa: Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams Decries 'Malicious Smear Campaign' After Allegations of Abusing State Funds for Anniversary

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said allegations that she and her husband abused state resources to celebrate their anniversary, is a "malicious smear campaign that must be treated with all the contempt that it deserves".

On Sunday, the Sunday Independent reported that Ndabeni-Abrahams allegedly used thousands of rands in public money while on an official visit to Europe, to also fund her wedding anniversary celebrations by taking her husband, Thato Abrahams, along on working visits to the US and Switzerland, without permission from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The newspaper also published an allegation that Ndabeni-Abrahams allowed her husband to attend official meetings.

The EFF called on Ramaphosa to take "strong action" against her and said it will ask the Public Protector to investigate the allegations. The EFF also said it was aware of the allegations before its publication.

On Monday, Ndabeni-Abrahams released a statement, denying "the unfounded allegations made against her and her husband, Mr Thato Abrahams, pointing to the abuse of power, state resources and interfering with the public broadcaster's editorial independence".

"This is a malicious smear campaign that must be treated with all the contempt that it deserves," reads the statement from her spokesperson Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini.

"At the outset, attention is drawn to the fact that the president is not required to approve the inclusion of a spouse for official international trips, as long as all is in line with the limits set in the Ministerial Handbook.

"Further, the handbook allows for spouses to accompany members of the executive on two official international trips per year. Therefore, both policy and process were not flouted in Mr Abrahams accompanying the Minister to Geneva and New York," the statement reads.

Ministerial Handbook

This is indeed the case. News24 consulted the Ministerial Handbook, which states the following on spouses accompanying ministers abroad: "Ministers and Deputy Ministers may be accompanied by their spouse (or an adult family member instead) on, no more than two (2) international trips per year if a) the trip undertaken is longer than 3 days; and b) the Minister or Deputy Minister is invited to attend official duties accompanied by a spouse or adult family member."

Nowhere does the handbook require a minister to request the president to allow the spouse to accompany the minister on an official international trip. The handbook does require ministers to approach the president in writing to request approval for an intended visit.

Ndabeni-Abrahams further argues it is of no consequence that the trip coincided with her wedding anniversary "as public funds were not used and/or misused for this purpose".

"It is also malicious to claim that Mr Abrahams travelled to France on a 'shopping spree' utilising public funds as his passport, which is available for scrutiny, clearly reveals that he was in Geneva at all times during this trip. A baseless allegation is also made that Mr Abrahams used a 'chauffeur driven Mercedes-Benz S600 that was allocated to the minister' for the said 'shopping spree'. This is devoid of all truth because it did not happen."

"The Minister further assures the public that Mr Abrahams has not attended any government meetings and as mentioned in the written reply to the journalist. He, from time-to-time, accompanies the Minister to open government events, as is the case with any other spouse.

"Further, Mr Abrahams has never interfered with the affairs of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies, as alleged in the article. This and other spurious claims made in the article, including the opportunistic EFF statement, are disingenuous and misleading," reads the statement.

"The Minister is fully aware of the political malice at play, which has given shape to a well-orchestrated and sinister campaign to discredit her and deter her from fulfilling the department's mandate, which includes sector transformation.

"The Minister therefore welcomes the EFF's call for an investigation and believes that it will assist in educating the party on how issues of public service in relation to ministerial duties and responsibilities are conducted."

On Monday, DA MP and spokesperson on communications Phumzile van Damme said: "Quite clearly, the frailties of the ministerial handbook are yet again being used to justify luxury expenses, at the expense of poor South Africans who are expected to continuously foot the bill.

"The DA will, therefore, submit parliamentary questions to request the full details of Mr Abrahams' participation on this official overseas jaunt."

Source: News24

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