SAA has been withougt a permanent chief executive since Monwabisi Kalawe in 2015. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Cape Town - The SAA board could have a new chief executive soon after it finalised the first round of interviews for the top position.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba confirmed in Parliament yesterday that candidates had been shortlisted for the position, but would not give the number of candidates.

“The final round of interviews will start in due course, whereafter a discussion with the shareholders will be sought,” he said.

SAA has been without a permanent chief executive since Monwabisi Kalawe resigned in September 2015 after disciplinary issues with the then board and a Labour Court dispute.

A settlement was reached with SAA when the matter was in the Labour Court and Kalawe was paid a portion of the contract. Since then Musa Zwane has been acting in the position of chief executive.

In a written reply to the National Assembly, Gigaba also said they had finalised the appointment of the chief financial officer. This followed the interviewing of candidates for the position. He said acting chief financial officer (CFO) Phumeza Nhantsi was also in the running for the position. “The interim CFO has applied for the position she is currently acting in,” he said.

However, it was not clear if the candidate appointed by the board is Nhantsi. Nhantsi has been acting in the position since December 2015 after former CFO Wolf Meyer quit. Meyer resigned shortly after Kalawe parted ways with the national carrier.

Kalawe had been appointed to the position in April 2013 and had taken over the reins from Siza Mzimela. Mzimela had been in the position since October 2012 before she left to form her own company.

Read also: New CEO 'soon' for SAA

During Kalawe’s suspension in 2014, former Mango chief executive Nico Bezuidenhout acted in the position of SAA chief executive.

SAA has been in a difficult financial position in the past few years.

The National Treasury confirmed recently that it has given SAA guarantees totalling R20 billion in the past few years. In its financial statements it recorded losses of R5.6 billion in 2014/15 and another loss of R1.5 billion in 2015/16.

When the cabinet appointed the board of SAA last year, it said it wanted it to improve the airline's financial position.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan also said the immediate task of the board was to get SAA in a better financial shape so that it would not rely on government guarantees to survive.

The government has spent hundreds of billions of rand on state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to stay afloat.

In the last budget vote, Gordhan said the government had spent more than R500 billion in guarantees on SOEs in the past 15 years.

He warned that this was not the best way to run state entities. He said SAA must have a strong balance sheet and be able to compete in the market.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was on a study tour in China last year to look at how that government manages its own SOEs.

SAA has been one entity that has received large guarantees from the government.