Johannesburg - Former acting SAA Technical chief executive Arson Phiri has told the Zondo Commission that he left after feeling that there was something wrong at the national carrier and how it was run.
Phiri, now general manager: commercial at state-owned airline SA Express, told the commission of inquiry into state capture that he felt there was a lot wrong as far as corporate governance was concerned and more specifically procurement processes and the way decisions were being made.
“There was a breakdown in compliance,” said Phiri, adding that it became very clear in his mind that complying with procurement processes were being eroded.
Phiri resigned from SAA Technical in May 2016 and a week later he got a call from the unit’s chairperson Yakhe Kwinana, who at that stage was also a member of the SAA board headed by its controversial former chairperson Dudu Myeni.
Kwinana, according to Phiri, told him that his departure had left a vacuum and persuaded him that SAA Technical was a highly regulated institution in which compliance was key and without a chief executive it could call into question its license.
“She (Kwinana) asked me to go back for at least a month or two in order to close the gap. The thinking was that they would have secured the services of a substantive chief executive. In fact, the chief executive of SAA Technical before I got the acting role was Musa Zwane, who was then asked to act at SAA. I basically took over his role at SAA Technical,” he said.
Phiri said when Kwinana asked him to go back for two months the thinking was that they would have been able to finalise the recruitment of a group executive committee, in which case then Zwane would go back to his old role of SAA Technical chief executive.
He said he agreed after careful consideration and spent one and a half months and left at the end of August.
Phiri said it was during the brief period he was back at SAA Technical when Kwinana resigned as a board member in August 2016 and shared with him why she had resigned.
“One of the issues she had raised was that corporate governance was being compromised so she decided to leave, which meant there were only two board members left, which is below the threshold as required the Public Finance Management Act,” he explained.
Phiri told commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that his second departure was informed by the fact that even Kwinana had to resign citing the very same issues that were making him uncomfortable, which he said basically confirmed his gut and the voice that was talking to him.
“That for me was an indication that indeed what I thought was my gut feeling was actually real,” he said.
Phiri has been back at SA Express since November and his one-year contract runs until the end of 2019.
The commission will resume on Friday with the testimony of Koreneka Trading and Projects director Babadi Tlatsana and North West Department of Community Safety and Transport's chief financial officer Kutlwano Phatudi.