ADELEGATION of 40 government officials returned from Port Alfred yesterday after a three-day junket where they were pampered with massages, dined on four-star meals and treated to a boat cruise up the Kowie.
Dubbed a leadership and management workshop fused with a Christmas party, the gathering at the coastal town was attended by 30 Eastern Cape MPLS and an entourage of 10 support staff from the provincial legislature.
The opposition DA yesterday estimated the bill taxpayers footed for the seaside excursion to be in the region of R200 000.
Although the exact cost of the two-day workshop – held at the four-star My Ponds Hotel – could not be established yesterday, officials were treated to buffet lunches and three-course dinners accompanied with “expensive” wines during their stay.
Adding to the furore is that the province’s growth and service delivery are under huge threat as the Eastern Cape struggles to spend its capital infrastructure budget.
The workshop, meant to furnish public servants with “better skills in the interest of service delivery”, was conducted by the Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy (Palma).
The bill was divided up between Bhisho, the academy – which had the details of an additional seven people – and reportedly by funding received from the European Union.
Arriving on Wednesday afternoon, the party of politicians and civil servants were taken on a sunset boat cruise on the Kowie River. However, the cruise was reportedly booked for 75 people, but only 25 pitched up.
A cruise operator, who asked to remain anonymous and was hired to form part of the jaunt, said yesterday: “They always hire a group of us but never pitch up. Then they are always slow in paying. Most of us in Port Alfred are sick of dealing with them.”
According to the operator the cruise would have cost about R5 600 – which does not include the alcohol and snack bill.
The pampered delegation then ate a buffet of barbecued meat and a smorgasbord of salads for lunch on Thursday at the My Ponds Hotel on the banks of the Kowie.
Hours later they dined on a three-course meal with the main consisting of roast beef, pork and vegetables.
During the lavish dinner, gift baskets of biltong, fruit and bottles of Appletiser, along with Drimac jackets – with the words “Class of 2011” printed on – were dished out.
After the leadership and management workshop on Thursday they were given the option of massages at the Halyards Hotel on the waterfront of the Royal Alfred Marina.
While the workshop was held at the fourstar hotel, the government officials stayed at a range of bed and breakfasts situated around Port Alfred. According to websites, prices for accommodation in Port Alfred range from R450 to R1 000.
Legislature speaker Fikile Xasa said yesterday: “It was a multi-prong session that included the Christmas party, capacitybuilding and a Palma session.”
He said a piece of the R3.8m funding received from the EU was used to foot part of the bill but he did not know how much Bhisho had to fork out.
Xasa referred the Dispatch to deputy speaker of the provincial legislature Bulelwa Tunyiswa-gqoboka, who could not be reached for further comment.
Asked if he took part in the cruise, Xasa said he did, but he only laughed when questioned about the massages.
Yesterday afternoon the Dispatch was contacted by Monwabisi Mfulani, who works in the deputy speaker’s office.
Mfulani said questions would only be answered by Monday afternoon.
DA MPL John Cupido, who attended the workshop and then left for East London on Thursday, said: “There was no reason to stay over. It is a blatant waste of taxpayers money and could have been held at the legislature in Bhisho at no extra cost.”
Cupido said after sending an RSVP for the workshop and saying he would not need accommodation, he was told a booking had already been made for him.
“No matter how they try and spin it they would have lost money if only 40 people attended,” he said.
He also questioned the use of EU funding. “I wonder if they (the EU) know that their money is being spent on such trivial things.” — firstname.lastname@example.org