Fact-check: Did Ndabeni-Abrahams need Ramaphosa’s permission for spousal trip?

Fact-check: Did Ndabeni-Abrahams need Ramaphosa’s permission for spousal trip?

Minster of Communications and Telecommunications Stella Ndabeni Abrahams during the swearing in of the new Presidential Cabinet at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, 30 May 2019. Picture: Jacques Nelles

The minister let her husband tag along, business class, last year, to New York and Geneva. But was she actually in breach of the Ministerial Handbook?

In a statement on Sunday, the EFF condemned the allegations in a Sunday report that the communications minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, had supposedly abused state resources to fund overseas jaunts with her husband to the US and Switzerland, along with other alleged irregularities.

However, the Sunday Independent’s report itself has, however, been brought into question since it appears to have distorted the contents of the Ministerial Handbook.

EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi claimed on Sunday they were outraged by the “continuing tendencies of ministers who treat state resources and use taxpayer’s money as they wish”, adding that they had been “made aware” of “all these allegations before they appeared in the media”.

The party said they would write to the public protector to investigate, as well as call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take “strong action” against the minister, or he would be guilty of more “indecisiveness and lack of leadership”.

They also called on Ndabeni-Abrahams’ husband, Thato Abrahams, to refrain from allegedly interfering in government activities such as “interviewing for candidates for positions on the various boards for which [his wife] has political oversight”.

The Sunday Independent had reported earlier that the minister had not had permission from Ramaphosa to take her husband on the trips to the US and Europe in September last year and that she “allowed her husband to attend official meetings” related to her department.

Two return business class tickets to Switzerland alone cost the state an alleged R76,719, and her husband had reportedly even used his wife’s officially supplied “chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz S600” to travel from Geneva to Paris, in France, “to go shopping”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’ spokesperson told the paper the minister had not needed presidential permission for her husband’s travel, which the president’s spokesperson confirmed was true.

“The president is not required to approve the inclusion of a spouse, as long as it is line with limits set in the Ministerial Handbook,” Khusela Diko explained.

Public Works Minister Patricia De Lille, however, was quoted as disputing this, claiming – not entirely accurately – that an application in writing within 14 days, with an official motivation and explanation, would have been required for spousal accompaniment, according to the Handbook.

She was quoted saying the following: “Each and every trip, you need to make an application in writing within 14 days and motivate why you must take your spouse along,” she said.

If De Lille did, in fact, say this, it might suggest she was either not familiar with, or comprehending of, the full text of the Ministerial Handbook.

The Handbook says the following about spousal trips: “Ministers and Deputy Ministers may be accompanied by their spouse (or an adult family member instead) on, no more than two (2) international trips per year if a) the trip undertaken is longer than 3 days; and b) the Minister or Deputy Minister is invited to attend official duties accompanied by a spouse or adult family member.”

The section in the Handbook that De Lille may have been referring to – or was confused by – was the requirement that ministers must “approach the President in writing to request approval for intended visits [overseas] and in the event of a planned official visit abroad, such request should be at least two weeks prior to departure”.

The Sunday Independent’s article, however, did not report on whether the minister had in fact failed to seek permission for her trip at all – as she should have – choosing only to focus on her husband’s inclusion, and whether that had been approved.

Nothing in the Handbook appears to dictate that Ndabeni-Abrahams would have needed Ramaphosa’s approval for her husband’s inclusion on the trip.

The Handbook also allows for business class travel for flights of longer than two hours, as long as “the cost of air travel shall be the cheapest of three (3) quotations”.

Others on Sunday had similarly noticed and criticised the discrepancy between the Handbook’s actual wording and the newspaper report.

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