Cape Town – Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi has denied any wrongdoing in flying friends and family to Cape Town for her budget address in May, and maintains that she never dodged accountability by not attending Parliament.
Muthambi was answering questions in the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday afternoon.
Fiery EFF MP Tebogo Mokwele said she was "amazed" that Muthambi had shown up, after she failed to account to the portfolio committee on public service and administration.
On Tuesday, August 15, Muthambi was due to appear before the committee to explain allegations that she used state funds to fly family and friends to Cape Town for her budget speech in May.
According to committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza, Muthambi did not offer an apology. The committee decided that it would summon Muthambi - who has never attended a meeting of the committee since she was moved to this portfolio in President Jacob Zuma’s late night Cabinet reshuffle in March - to a meeting and that she and her director general would be liable, out of their own pockets, for the costs of the meeting.
Two days later, the outspoken Khoza was removed as the committee’s chairperson.
'You’re disrespecting Parliament'
The meeting scheduled for August 22, where Muthambi was due to appear, was cancelled.
"Honourable minister, how can you come here and pretend you care for South Africans when you’re disrespecting Parliament?" asked Mokwele.
"I was going to deal with the relevance of the allegations," Muthambi responded.
"I want to dismiss all the allegations against me with contempt."
"I’ve always come to Parliament," Muthambi said.
"The other allegations raised lack substance."
DA MP Jacques Julius referred to the instability caused by Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffles, and said that Muthambi had been reshuffled herself and had "caused instability in two departments". He asked her if she agreed that stripping her department’s CFO of his powers had contributed to instability.
"There are no powers of CFO that I’ve stripped," she said.
"I’ve never stripped any CFO any powers, and I’ve never stripped any DG any powers."
The last question on the order paper was by DA MP Bronwynn Engelbrecht, and read: "What course of action could be taken by an official when he/she is expected to perform an illegal action by a Minister?"
'The tickets I used are called privileged tickets'
Muthambi answered that public servants should only act on lawful actions, and that there was no minister who was entitled to issue an unlawful instruction.
Julius said he agreed with Muthambi, but that it happened nonetheless. He said the allegations against her - about the trip for family and friends, nepotism, and that she had stripped the CFO of his powers - came from "faithful, law abiding" officials. He asked her if she could commit that none of her officials would be purged.
"Nobody is going to be purged," Muthambi said.
"Number one, the issue of this trip. There is a approve structure in the department. I didn’t go beyond the structure."
She said she has never seen positions for ministerial support staff advertised.
"The tickets that I used are called privileged tickets. I’ve got 30 tickets I can utilise. I didn’t go beyond that," she said.
"If it was true there was any wrongdoing, it would have been reported to the relevant authorities."
She “implored” the honourable members to the read the ministerial handbook.
'We know how you operate'
Mokwele said it was well known that officials were "oppressed" by politicians.
"We know how you operate. We know why the swimming pool was called a firepool by the minister," Mokwele said.
"We know why the Gupta aeroplane landed in Waterkloof."
"And you come here as minister and tell us of legislation that you don’t respect!"
Mokwele’s EFF colleague Nkagisang Koni asked Muthambi if she, in her previous capacity as minister of communications - for which she was found to be "incompetent" by Parliament - informed anybody of Cabinet decisions.
One of the allegations brought to light by the #GuptaLeaks is that she communicated Cabinet decisions to the Guptas.
The question was disallowed, as it related to her previous post. Mokwele and Noni raised several points of order, in vain, and the House adjourned with the question unanswered.
Parliament’s legal services found that Muthambi "might have misled Parliament" when she testified before the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC board.