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Ndabeni-Abrahams refutes spending allegations

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Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Minister of communications and digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has rubbished reports linking her and husband Thato Abrahams to a life of opulence abroad at the taxpayer’s expense.

Ndabeni-Abrahams was over the weekend dragged into yet another controversy, with accusations emerging that she allegedly used thousands of rands in state funds to celebrate her wedding anniversary in the US and Switzerland.

The Sunday Independent reported Ndabeni-Abrahams may have contravened sections of the executive ethics code by taking her husband along on international trips without permission from president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ndabeni Abrahams today denied the allegations in a strongly-worded statement.

It said she “refutes the unfounded allegations made against her and her husband, Mr Thato Abrahams, pointing to the abuse of power, state resources and interfering with the public broadcaster's editorial independence. This is a malicious smear campaign that must be treated with all the contempt that it deserves.”

The minister defended herself, saying attention is drawn to the fact that “the president is not required to approve the inclusion of a spouse for official international trips, as long as it is in line with the limits set in the Ministerial Handbook.

“Further, the handbook allows for spouses to accompany members of the executive on two official international trips per year. Therefore, both policy and process were not flouted in Mr Abrahams accompanying the minister to Geneva and New York.”

She says the fact that the trip coincided with her anniversary “is of no consequence as public funds were not used and/or misused for this purpose. It is also malicious to claim that Mr Abrahams travelled to France on a 'shopping spree' utilising public funds, as his passport, which is available for scrutiny, clearly reveals he was in Geneva at all times during this trip.”

Ndabeni Abrahams also denied her husband had a hand in appointments of board members in entities under her portfolio.

“He, from time-to-time, accompanies the minister to open government events, as is the case with any other spouse. Further, Mr Abrahams has never interfered with and in the affairs of the ministry of communications and digital technologies, as alleged in the article,” reads the statement.

This is the latest controversy involving the minister since taking office a year ago.

In December, the minister was forced to withdraw the appointment of Newyear Ntuli as administrator of the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) following inquiries by Eyewitness News on allegations of sexual misconduct.

Eyewitness News reported current and former Post Office staff were shocked that Ntuli, who left the state-owned enterprise following allegations of sexual misconduct, had been appointed by Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The minister said she wasn't aware of the allegations and Ntuli’s departure was recorded as a resignation even though both USAASA and the Post Office fell under her department.

At the beginning of last year, Ndabeni-Abrahams placed herself at the centre of the “Please Call Me” drama.

The “Please Call Me” saga between Vodacom and former employee Kenneth Nkosana Makate reached fever pitch in January 2019. For 18 years, Makate has been trying to get compensation for creating the lucrative call-back service.

An avid Twitter user, Ndabeni-Abrahams tweeted a not so ministerial response to the mobile operator. She was replying to a tweet from Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi, who criticised Vodacom over the “Please Call Me” matter.

"Just shut up Vodacom and do the right thing. ‘Talk to Makate’ instead of this poor PR stunt. Don't talk to us until you have reached a settlement with him and his team,” said the minister’s now-deleted tweet to the mobile operator.

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