A potentially expensive trip to Russia by the entire parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education and training and its committee staff has been stopped days before the group jetted off to Moscow this week.
It is understood that the committee was annoyed at the decision, which interfered with advanced planning and preparation for the fact-finding mission that some saw as nothing but a costly junket to attend the Fifa World Cup grand opening on June 14.
Cedric Frolick, house chairperson of committees, turned down the trip but gave no reason.
Connie September, portfolio committee chair on higher education, diverted The Citizen’s enquiry on the issue to Frolick, who did not answer his cellphone or return messages yesterday.
Also, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo’s cellphone rang unanswered.
The matter came to the public’s attention when DA shadow minister for higher education and training Belinda Bozzoli tweeted about it yesterday. She was annoyed that Frolick cancelled the trip at the 11th hour, despite the advanced preparations.
“Two days before our portfolio committee due to leave for a study trip to Moscow, the chair of the House cancels our trip. Mystery as to why,” Bozzoli tweeted. “Probably money. What terrible planning and waste of admin resources. Those who manage the House seem to despise MPs and their schedules.”
When called by The Citizen, she said that it was a routine trip that committees undertake as part of their study of comparative systems.
“Every parliamentary committee does go out on these visits.
“We were supposed to go there to study issues such as institutional capacity at colleges and to see what we can learn with regards to skills training in Russia.”
Bozzoli said the committee was not told why Frolick decided to cancel the trip.
“It may be financial, but the thing is the whole thing indicates poor management by parliament and waste of resources in preparing for the trip,” she said.
The committee was expected to fly to Moscow today and stay until next week Friday, a day after the opening of the World Cup.
“We would have gone to Russia and returned before the World Cup, so it is absolutely nonsense that people implied that we were going there for the World Cup,” Bozzoli said.
With her tweet, she appeared to have opened a can of worms.
Members of the public, who replied to Bozzoli’s tweet, expressed disappointment.
Jonathan Witt tweeted: “You were going to Russia during the World Cup. Even if your intentions were entirely pure, there is no way this is the best use of taxpayer funds during a time when hotel and travel costs increase to exorbitant amounts.”
But when Bozzoli responded, defending the trip, to say “actually we were going to return before the World Cup started”, an unsatisfied Witt said: “Noted. Thanks for the response.
“The point is still about costing not about being in a country for a tournament. Pricing generally increases 2-3 months before and after such events with peaks occurring in the immediate weeks of, and on either side.”
Gracie Jane was clear: “Poor planning notwithstanding, what, pray, were you expecting to learn from the Russian system of higher education & training? Please, Ms Bozzoli, instead of griping like a spoiled child could you perhaps honour us with some constructive thought on our own system.”