Johannesburg - As the government prepares to buy a new billion rand luxury jet for President Jacob Zuma, it has emerged that his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, was flown to the Seychelles by the SA Air Force for a holiday.
Three days after Motlanthe lost to Zuma in Mangaung in the battle to become ANC president, he, his partner and at least five bodyguards checked into the luxury Desroches Island Resort.
Deputy President Motlanthe is entitled to be flown by the government on holiday, but his trip has raised more questions about the secrecy of the handbook that governs the extent of the spending the president and his deputy are entitled to.
City Press is in possession of documentation and request forms signed off by high-ranking officials in the presidency and the air force that outline the holiday expenses, which included expensive villas and charter flights.
Motlanthe paid his own bill, but it is not clear who footed the accommodation bill for his security detail.
The documentation shows that an Air Force Falcon 900 was used to transport Motlanthe and his entourage to the Seychelles.
But the Falcon could not land on Desroches Island due to the “unsuitability of the runway” and therefore a local charter plane was contracted to transport the deputy and his company at a cost of R83 000, covered by the state.
An aviation company told City Press that to fly to the Seychelles from South Africa on a Falcon 900 would cost about R1m for a single trip.
The party booked three villas and a retreat for 12 nights at a cost of more than R2m.
Motlanthe’s spokesperson, Thabo Masebe, said the deputy president paid for his own accommodation.
Masebe said the trip was in accordance with the “Presidential Manual”.
The manual – similar to the Ministerial Handbook, but for the president and his deputy – was in draft phase during 2006 when the public protector investigated flights undertaken by then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to the United Arab Emirates.
According to Masebe, the manual, which regulates travelling expenses of the presidency, has been finalised but is a confidential document that will not be released like the Ministerial Handbook.
“The Presidential Manual was finalised in 2006 after the allegations against (Mlambo-Ngcuka) and it states very clearly that presidential travel, whether officially or unofficially, will be the responsibility of the SA Police Service (SAPS) and the air force.
“The determination of the number of security personnel is the mandate of the SAPS. The deputy doesn’t even know how many people were deployed (to the Seychelles) for his safety. He has no say,” said Masebe.
Governance expert Hennie van Vuuren said the private use of government transport for holiday purposes needed much more attention.
“It is impossible for the public to be able to make sure that powerful politicians are doing the right thing when the Presidential Manual is kept secret. An open approach, publishing the manual online, would be a signal of the presidency’s commitment to public accountability and open government.
“The secrecy of the manual also makes it impossible for all citizens to debate what constitutes a fair use of public funds.”
The DA’s spokesperson on defence, David Maynier, said he would write to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, asking her to investigate Motlanthe’s trip.
He said the Presidential Manual should be published.
“However, even if Motlanthe did not break the rules, he is still wrong to have used public funds to pay for part of his holiday in the Seychelles. In the end, he had a choice. He chose to use public funds for his holiday. And that is simply wrong.”
Maynier said he hoped Motlanthe “will consider doing the right thing and paying back the full amount the public spent on his holiday in the Seychelles”.
The police said they can’t comment on matters with the potential of compromising security around VIPs.
Meanwhile, a source involved in parliament’s defence review committee says government will later this year reopen the process to buy new planes for the presidency.
The process was controversially stopped last year when then defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu cancelled the deal to buy VIP aircraft for Zuma and Motlanthe.
It was found the correct procurement processes were not followed because it did not go out on an open tender.
Motlanthe had to make emergency landings twice in the aircraft given to him by the air force to travel on official business.
President Jacob Zuma needs to use shadow planes when he flies over Africa, said the source, who has links with the defence force, to make sure an emergency landing with his Inkwazi, a Boeing Business Jet, does not become a security risk.
Holiday is above board
On Sunday, Masebe said he did not know "why there should be any controversy" surrounding Motlanthe's holiday to the Seychelles.
"The deputy president - once he becomes deputy president - his security is the responsibility of the state," Masebe said.
"That is why all travels, whether private or official, are the responsibility of the state."
Masebe reiterated that Motlanthe paid for his own holiday and that the state only pays for transport.
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