The timing and practicality of a new interim board at SAA are in the spotlight in the wake of the announcement yesterday on the move.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) on Tuesday continued to demand answers and greater transparency from the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) after it announced the new SAA board members.
According to a Numsa statement on Monday, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had secretly fired the old board of SAA on April 14 and had replaced them with new board members. Shortly after their statement, the DPE announced the board.
Numsa’s new interim board, chaired by Derek Hanekom, was effective from April 15, 2023, and would serve until the introduction of the strategic equity partner, Takatso Consortium.
The consortium is poised to acquire a 51% majority stake in SAA, with the transaction presently undergoing regulatory review.
The DPE failed to respond to the request for comment by the time of going to print.
In Numsa’s statement, titled “Four reasons why the decision by the Department of Public Enterprises to suddenly appoint a new board to SAA stinks of corruption”, Numsa said it was deeply suspicious of the timing by the minister who chose to replace these board members at this time.
It was interesting to note that the minister gave no reasons why these board members were fired, and what it was that they failed to do, to justify their hasty removal, the union said.
Firstly, Numsa said the DPE claimed that the people who had been chosen to lead the new board would finalise and hand over the airline to Takatso. It questioned why the old board was not doing the handover and alleged the new board had been hand-picked by Gordhan to rubber-stamp the deal and not to ask hard questions.
Secondly, Numsa questioned the true state of SAA’s assets and financial statements, saying there was no transparency, calling for the financial statements to be made public.
Thirdly, it asked why the board was removed in the middle of an audit by the auditor-general, which was taking place at SAA and which would have been in a few weeks’ time,.
Fourthly, it said SAA existed because of an act of Parliament, and yet the entire process of appointing Takatso remained shrouded in mystery because Gordhan refused to disclose to the public, or to Parliament, how he came to the decision that Takatso was the right organisation to choose as the equity partner.
Numsa said it would be writing to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on public enterprises, Khaya Magaxa, to demand that they act with speed and set up a meeting with the former director-general of the DPE as well as all the unions at SAA.
Meanwhile, DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia said the DA noted the appointment of Hanekom as the interim chairperson of SAA, including other interim executive appointments, but remained sceptical that he would be able to address the existing impasse with Takatso, without asking the South African taxpayers for billions of rand more in bailouts.
When the Takatso deal was first announced by the government in June 2021, Takatso made an undertaking to invest R3 billion in SAA over three years.
“Almost two years have elapsed but the promised equity injection by Takatso is yet to materialise. It’s as if Takatso wants the taxpayer to foot all the recapitalisation costs of SAA and they just reap the benefits through their 51% stake,” Cachalia said.
He said changing board appointments frequently did not address the elephant in the room – namely; at what point would Takatso fulfil its end of the business agreement and start fulfilling its responsibilities as the largest equity partner in SAA?
“It appears Takatso still wants to keep the bailout taps open,” he said.
Cachalia added that while Hanekom, a former minister of tourism, has been characterised by Gordhan as having a deep understanding of the aviation industry’s crucial role in promoting travel and economic growth, he knew next to nothing about the aviation industry and his appointment was yet another example of the ANC’s cadre deployment.
“One would have expected Gordhan to consider appointing someone with aviation expertise to oversee SAA’s transition period and implementation of the public/private partnership with the Takatso Consortium,” he said.
Furthermore, Cachalia said SAA was playing in an increasingly competitive environment and the longer it took to get the Takatso deal going, while busy changing the deck chairs, the greater the chances of failure and more bailouts from a fiscus that was already stretched to the limit.