Tuesday, January 17, 2006


SA defends controversial air trip.

Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka and her party of 12 travelled to Abu Dhabi. South Africa's presidency says a recent controversial plane trip by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka combined leisure and business. It emerged last week that the deputy president had used a state plane for a holiday costing taxpayers over $66,000.
A presidential spokesman said the deputy president's husband and the wife of another cabinet member were also on the trip to the United Arab Emirates. Critics say the trip may have been to help her husband's business interests. The incident threatens to embarrass the government, which has promised to act against corruption. Presidential spokesman Murphy Morobe on Tuesday said the trip was a holiday, but the deputy president had taken the opportunity to study the management of infrastructure projects.
Thuthukile Mazibuko-Skweyiya - wife of Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya - was part of the trip because she is a member of the Joint Initiative for the Procurement of Scarce Skills, Mr Morobe said. The trip on a South African Air Force plane had been funded by the South African state, and accommodation was provided by the government of the United Arab Emirates, Mr Morobe said.
Two opposition parties, The Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus, have written separately to the public protector requesting an inquiry into the trip. DA MP Douglas Gibson said the party wanted an investigation into "the possible abuse of her office and state resources by the deputy president". Controversy around the December flight has grown since the press first reported it last week, as officials made apparently contradictory statements about the nature of the trip. Mr Morobe at first said it had been a private visit, and that said Mrs Mlambo-Ngcuka was entitled in her role as deputy president to use the plane for that purpose.
Later the deputy president herself said the trip had in fact been a "fact-finding mission to study cranes". The DA then pointed out that deputy president's husband, Bulelani Ngcuka, has substantial interests in the construction industry in South Africa. The deputy president's adviser then issued a further statement saying the visit had been a holiday, as originally stated.
Mrs Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was appointed after President Thabo Mbeki's previous deputy, Jacob Zuma, was sacked following allegations of corruption, is under attack from the opposition for abusing codes of public conduct.
South Africa's largest trade union federation, Cosatu, has described the use of the plane at public expense as "an example of capitalist morality." President Mbeki made the fight against corruption a cornerstone of his platform for local elections, when he launched the governing ANC party's manifesto earlier this month.


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