Parliament - Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Wednesday he would seek further legal opinion on whether his decision to extend the term of South African Airways chairwoman Dudu Myeni is above board after MPs raised concern that he did not have the power to do so without Cabinet approval.
Gigaba was grilled about it by Parliament's standing committee on finance after parliamentary legal adviser Frank Jenkins disagreed with the view of Deputy Finance Minister Sibusiso Buthelezi that SAA's memorandum of incorporation allowed the minister to take a unilateral decision in this regard.
Myeni's term was due to end on August 31, but Buthelezi confirmed that the minister extended it until the loss-making carrier's annual general meeting in November.
MPs asked whether Cabinet had approved Gigaba's decision and said had it not, the extension would be irregular.
Jenkins said the deputy minister's assertion that a suspensive clause in the memorandum of understanding empowered the minister to extend her contract was false, as this clause only kicked in if all non-executive members of the board had left at once.
"In the light of that ... you cannot just single out the chairperson," he said, and was then asked by MPs to draft a formal opinion.
Buthelezi said National Treasury had not wished to act illegally but added that other lawyers may reach a different conclusion to Jenkins, and the ministry's did in this instance.
Earlier, fellow ANC MP Thandi Tobias rejected the ministry's stated motivation for the extension -- to ensure continuity up to the AGM -- and said it appeared that the committee was not being told the true reason.
"For now, as it stands, it is not the AGM that we can use as an excuse," she said, before proposing that Jenkins be asked to draw up a formal opinion to give to the treasury.
Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees noted that SAA's lenders were loathe to extend the airline's loans further, for as long as Myeni served as chairwoman.
"Lenders are reticent about rollovers when Ms Myeni remains. That should influence our recommendation about whether Ms Myeni stays on," he said.
Myeni has served on the board of the airline for eight years. She was re-appointed by former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, with the proviso that it would be for a single term. It was widely believed that he acted under pressure from President Jacob Zuma.
Myeni has persistently blamed SAA's financial woes on decisions taken decades ago under apartheid. The airline is reliant on loans guaranteed by the government to remain operational, and Lees pointed out than a portion of its debt was due to mature in September.
Buthelezi said National Treasury was meeting regularly with lenders to ensure that the loans not be called in, and an understanding had been reached with the majority.
Gigaba and Buthelezi on Wednesday announced that they would table a special appropriations bill at the end of the month to give R10 billion to SAA.
African News Agency