The parliament building in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS
The parliament building in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS

It is often safer to ignore the musings of certain columnists and, not unsurprisingly, Gareth van Onselen counts among those best ignored. However, his latest column merits a response, if only to set the record straight (“The pious hypocrisy of Trevor Manuel”, December 2).

Van Onselen must also check his facts, lest he willingly spread untruths. By claiming my wife and I flew “in contravention of the relevant rules and regulations”, I have to ask which rules and regulations. Actually, in writing in this manner, Van Onselen exposes himself as a dedicated follower of Leon Schreiber, the individual who marks the ultra-right pole of the DA. This same DA MP has made an industry of attacking individuals who contribute to transforming SA away from its apartheid past.

So, he has attacked Justice Edwin Cameron and University of Stellenbosch vice-chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers, to unsuccessfully litigate against them. He has viciously attacked Justice Siraj Desai, and now it is apparently my turn.

In his quest for heroism, Schreiber opted to seek information via a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application, ignoring his rights and responsibilities as an MP to ask questions of relevant ministers. He has proceeded to use the edited outcomes of the Paia application to sow disinformation.

The most elementary point of disinformation is that the post-retirement travel benefits used by former members of the executive is “in contravention of the rules”. This is patently untrue.

After a recent article in the Sunday Times, I wrote first to the public service & administration minister Senzo Mchunu, and then to the speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, for clarity. The system, as I understand it, requires the former member of the executive to request a ticket from parliament; once approved parliament issues a reference number. It is not possible to bypass the system, basic as it is.

Mchunu responded to my inquiry by informing me that the Guide for Members of the Executive (the Ministerial Handbook) was amended on November 20 2019 by giving parliament responsibility for managing the travel scheme, in terms of the separation of powers. He said that until November 19 2019 the travel by me (and my wife) occurred in terms of the scheme for former members of the executive, administered by parliament.

In her letter dated November 27 2020 Modise wrote as follows: “It is rather unfortunate that the media has reported the information that was furnished in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act in the manner they did. The travel facilities applicable to yourself and your spouse are provided in terms of the Handbook for Members of the Executive and Presiding Officers, approved by Cabinet on 7 February 2007, which remains applicable to all members who served in the executive up until 2019.

“No provision has been made for travel facilities for these members, including yourself, in the new Guide for Members of the Executive (of 20 November 2019), which replaces the 2007 handbook. You will therefore continue to utilise the benefits which you are entitled to in terms of the 2007 Handbook, until such time that parliament decides otherwise and expressly withdraws or amends the facility. In terms of the handbook, these facilities are administered and paid for by parliament. Within the context of the current economic depression, parliament will be reconsidering these benefits, among others.”

I have absolutely no problem with parliament reconsidering the benefits, as it has both the right and the duty to do so. However this scheme appears to those outside, it exists and has not been used in “contravention of relevant rules and regulations”.

This is the position, despite what Schreiber and Van Onselen may feel. As a professional columnist Van Onselen has an obligation to check facts, not simply regurgitate the garbage spewed by Schreiber.

Trevor Manuel
Via e-mail

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