MPUMALANGA arts and culture department head Sindi Mjwara yesterday denied that she was avoiding an appearance before the select committee on public accounts to answer for her department's excessive expenditure.

She said she was on study leave.

This is contrary to what the department's cultural affairs manager, Mafika Lubisi, told Scopa after Mjwara failed to pitch up.

Mjwara came under fire this week for failing to appear before Scopa to explain why her department had paid double for the construction of a disaster management centre.

The initial quotation for the construction of the archives building was R94million, but the costs skyrocketed to R161million within a year.

When called on to answer for this increase, Mjwara went "AWOL".

But Mjwara, who sent her subordinates to face Scopa, denied that she was ducking being grilled by thecommittee.

"It's not true that I ducked the meeting. I am currently on study leave and I had to send my colleagues," Mjwara told Sowetan yesterday.

Mjwara sent Lubisi, who failed to answer tough questions put to him by Scopa.

Scopa chairperson Fish Mahlalela asked what the delegation was doing there because it was not invited.

"Our invitation was strictly for the head of department to come and explain herself and for the MEC to be present.

"We don't even know who you guys are," said Mahlalela.

The officials, who looked lost and speechless, caucused among themselves before admitting that they were not supposed to be at the meeting.

"It's true that we are not supposed to be here. We were only informed at the last minute to appear, but the HOD is in Pretoria and was not aware that there was such a meeting," explained Lubisi.

But, this explanation did not appease Mahlalela, who sent them packing, saying only Mjwara and MEC Vusi Shongwe must appear before the committee.

"You are not taking this committee seriously. Go and get the MEC and the HOD to appear before thecommittee.

"It's not our problem that she is in Pretoria. Her office acknowledged receipt of our invitation a month ago," he said, producing a copy of the signed receipt of the invitation.

Mjwara said yesterday she would answer all of Scopa's questions when she returned from leave next week.