I was suspended at SAA because I did not award contract to Guptas, says Kona
Johannesburg - The Zondo commission has heard how the Guptas were desperate to influence the awarding of a business consultancy contract at South African Airways (SAA).
Former SAA acting CEO Vuyisile Kona, who had also held the role of board chairperson of SAA, had been pressured to attend a meeting at the Gupta household in Saxonwold by an advisor of former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba.
The former executive took the stand at the inquiry on Tuesday. He had served as acting CEO at SAA for a few months from September 2012 until October 2012. He was replaced as board chairperson by Dudu Myeni.
Kona detailed how at the time of his appointment as acting CEO, the airline had been facing financial constraints and had to ask for a bailout from National Treasury.
Treasury needed a business plan from the company and Kona had directed his supply chain division to go on tender and find a consultancy firm that would assist SAA in drawing up a business plan.
Kona said two companies had offered a business case.
L ufthansa Consultancy had offered a deal of R6 million, while McKinsey and Company had offered R40m.
Kona said it was clear that Lufthansa was the cheapest and most affordable option for the struggling airline.
He said while this deal was underway, he had been approached by Gigaba's advisor, Siyabonga Mahlangu, who insisted that he meet with business partners. The meeting was actually with the Guptas at their household in Saxonwold.
Kona said he was unaware that he would be meeting with the Guptas.
In October 2012, the meeting took place, with Duduzane Zuma, Tshepiso Magashule (the son of former Free State premier Ace Magashule), Mahlangu and Tony Gupta.
Kona said he was offered R100 000 cash by the Guptas on the spot. He said he was taken aback by the offer and refused the money.
"Then the conversation comes to the issue of the business plan. Tony first said he is welcoming me into the family. He said we know you have not been paid and he offered me R100 000.
"Indeed I had not been paid my September salary. He then said he could offer me R500 000. I told him I do not need the money. His expression changed and he was like what is the story with the consulting contract?
"Their money was there in cash. I was just not going to take money from a stranger. I started feeling uncomfortable with the whole thing. Nobody is going to give you that much money for nothing," he said.
Kona said when he refused the money, Gupta's attitude changed and he immediately started asking questions about the consultancy contract.
"He asked about the contract and I said yes the people have been informed (appointed) and he was livid. He asked who is going to be doing the consultancy, and I said it would be Lufthansa. Then immediately after that, the meeting ended. They (Gupta) called the director general of public enterprises who was Tsediso Mathona and asked him to come and explain what was going on. I walked out," Kona said.
Matona then called Kona and demanded to know why he had decided not to award the consultancy contract to McKinsey. He said he never heard from Matona until the department of public enterprises demanded to review the process that determined Lufthansa as the winning bidder.
"The next week I get a letter from public enterprises and they said they want to investigate the awarding of the contract to Lufthansa. So we prepared and the team (from the department) came and they found nothing. The department of public enterprises still would not let me appoint Lufthansa," he said.
Kona said he believes he was treated very differently and harshly by fellow board members and the department because of his decision to award the contract to Lufthansa.
The relationship deteriorated to such a point that he approached Gigaba for a meeting. Kona said that meeting never happened and instead by February 2013 he was suspended as CEO of SAA.