The department of communications has hit back at criticism over payments it made to cover a US trip by minister Faith Muthambi.
The department spent almost R600 000 on a nine-day trip to a luxury goods show and folk art festival in the US, according to a reply in parliament to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Gavin Davis.
Muthambi attended the Atlanta Lifestyle Hub Show and the Santa Fe Folk Art Market events in July “to represent the country”, according to the parliamentary reply.
The parliamentary reply document also detailed how costs for Muthambi and three other staff amounted to just over R593 515.
In the parliamentary response, the department detailed, for example, how it spent R116 607,72 on Muthambi’s tickets, service fees and insurance for the trip.
Davis posed questions about Muthambi’s trip in a press statement on Thursday. But the department has hit back as it said it did “not spend R600 000 as claimed”.
“In response to Davis’s parliamentary question, the minister indicated the estimated costs, not the actual expenditure incurred for her and officials trip to Atlanta,” said the department.
“The invoices received by the department for travel-related costs including connecting flights within the US amounted to R305 327 including the delegation,” said the department.
Fin24 asked the department to provide proof of the R305 327 amount but a spokesman has yet to send this information.
Davis said he can “only go on what the minister” says. “That parliamentary reply is straight from the horse’s mouth. It is the minister’s reply to my question,” said Davis.
“I personally hope that the minister’s office is not trying to manipulate the figures now that the minister’s visit is coming under scrutiny,” Davis added.
The department of communications also defended its reasons for sending Muthambi on the trip.
It said the department of small business development extended an invitation to the communications department to take part in a “creative industry-led initiative to take locally manufactured craft products to the international markets”.
“The department of communications has a mandate to support the development of the creative industries, particularly in relation to content development in the country. It is therefore, incorrect for Davis to insinuate that the trip has little to do with the work of the department,” said the statement.
The department of communications also said that rural South Africans had a chance to exhibit their creative arts in Atlanta.
“The artists will be able to export their locally produced products to the international markets without any assistance of a middlemen. Furthermore, this trip provided an opportunity to brand the country abroad,” said the department.
Meanwhile, Muthambi said she also had meetings with stakeholders, including young ambassadors.
“We need all strategies for broadcasting content, we will soon have multiple channels, we need to embrace ourselves for that moment, and the meeting with the creative industry in Atlanta paved way for collaboration,” she said.
Davis said there’s nothing wrong with government officials going on trips but that they need to be “justified and add value to taxpayers”.
“They’ve got to actually rationalise it and show how the public are getting value for money, so I’m going to be putting those questions to her in the committee,” he said.
He also responded to the department’s reasons, listed in its statement, for the trip. “My response to that is that it is pure spin. It is quite clear that the trip had very little to do with the minister’s mandate and that she’s trying to justify it. If you want to, you can make anything about communications — if you really want to.
“There’s nothing wrong with the Atlanta Lifestyle Hub and there’s nothing wrong with Sante Fe Folk Art Festival. The question is: does the minister need to go and spend nine days and R600 000 of the public’s money being there?” — Fin24