Johannesburg - A former SAA executive on Friday said she had been suspended for speaking out on unethical behaviour by the national carrier’s board of directors led by its then-chairperson Dudu Myeni.
Cynthia Stimpel, SAA’s group treasurer until 2016, told the commission of inquiry into state capture that she was suspended in July that year for complaining that the Myeni-led board was behaving unethically.
Stimpel’s suspension followed her battle against the airline’s plans to award contracts to advise on transactions, source R15 billion in funding and restructure debt to little-known company BnP Capital.
Two of the contracts would have cost SAA around R500m, but Myeni became the only board member willing to support the payment of a R50m cancellation fee to BnP Capital after its mandate as transaction adviser was terminated.
“The only member of the board who supported the recommendation (to pay BnP Capital R$9.9m (R146m)) was Dudu Myeni,” Stimpel said.
According to Stimpel, she felt she needed to know more about BnP Capital including its profile, capacity and capabilities.
“I needed to know who the company was,” she told the commission headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Instead, after she managed to lay her hands on the documents detailing BnP Capital’s credentials, former SAA chief financial officer Phumeza Nhantsi suspended her.
Among the charges included that Stimpel had committed misconduct, unauthorised possession and removal of confidential tender documents, insolence and breach of SAA’s anonymous reporting policy.
“I did not see it as unauthorised, I did not see it (documents) as confidential,” said Stimpel, adding that as SAA treasurer she was entitled to have access to the files.
The charge of insolence related to a WhatsApp message sent to a colleague she described as a friend when she (the colleague) was off sick.
“I don’t know if she was threatened for them to have seen the message, they must have gone through her phone,” Stimpel said.
The insolence was her stating that the board was continuing with its unethical behaviour.
She insisted that there was no proper basis for the charges against her and considered them to be part of officials in public institutions who were victimised for standing up against corruption.
“If you challenged whatever was incorrect you were suspended It seemed to have been a pattern,” Stimpel said.
She said there were some people tasked with getting rid of their colleagues in their departments by finding issues against them to get them suspended.
Stimpel added that there were also no proper grounds for suspension of former SAA chief commercial officer Sylvain Bosc and the airline’s one-time acting chief executive Thuli Mpshe.
Evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr asked Stimpel about the criticisms of her character.
Nhantsi, who is expected to testify next week, has accused Stimpel of being in a bullying mode when engaging with her and displaying a racist attitude.
Stimpel, according to Nhantsi, also claimed she became the airline’s chief financial officer only due to affirmative action.
But Stimpel denied Nhantsi’s criticism, saying it was not in her nature to swear and that she was always highly respectful towards her (Nhantsi).
“It is very untruthful, I have not done that,” she said.