OFFICIALS from the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison have claimed that they have either been suspended or victimised if they dared to ask questions about the newly launched Phakalane Airways, which transports government officials. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Kimberley - Officials from the Northern Cape Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison have claimed that they have either been suspended or victimised if they dared to ask questions about the newly launched Phakalane Airways, which transports government officials.

A number of top officials have since reportedly left the department or were shifted to other areas of the department, after raising concerns that according to the agreement entered into, the provincial government has to fund all the scheduled flights regardless of the number of passengers on board.

The flight schedule includes two trips to and from Kimberley and Upington on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, costing R4 740 as well as round trips once during the week and over weekends between Springbok and Kimberley, costing R8 500 per passenger.

An official intends lodging a complaint with the Public Protector because, he claimed, no tender procedures were followed.

“I was prevented from doing my job as the cost agreement amounted to fruitless and wasteful expenditure. How was the department expected to account to the Auditor-General when no budget was allocated for air travel?

“The Head of Department (HOD) insulted me after I had requested details regarding the ownership of the company where I was told that ‘even a child knows who the directors are’. Tender procedures were not followed and it is not known who the directors of the company are,” the official said.

Officials have apparently also been instructed to market the airlines, which they believe is a conflict of interests because it is a private company.

“Where will the shortfall for the exorbitant prices be sourced to sustain payment once the budgets and government coffers have run dry,” an official asked.

“Based on the inflated prices charged, it will amount to millions of rands for an empty aircraft. In terms of this agreement, the airline can charge the department for a 19-seater even when there is only one government official on board. There is a lot of room for irregular payments to take place,” said an official who was apparently suspended and charged for insubordination shortly after the airline was launched.

“Officials are too scared to say anything for fear of intimidation or demotion,” he added.

“Passengers used to flying business class will also be forced to downgrade to much narrower seats with no extra perks such as meals and extra luggage. We also need to be furnished with a track record of the safety of this airline.”

The official also indicated that it did not make sense that the provincial government departments booked flights through the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison although they have paid the airline directly.

Cope national chairman, Pakes Dikgetsi, who served in the provincial cabinet when Phakalane Airways was first introduced to government in 2008, said that the idea was shelved because the venture was too costly.

“At the time government felt uncomfortable relying on the South African Red Cross Air Mercy Services to transport government officials and recognised the need to establish an intra-provincial flight service.

“It was met with resistance because supply chain management processes were not followed and it did not comply with the Public Finance Management Act. No competitive bids were invited and it was estimated that it would cost government twice as much to fund the airline as to fly on a commercial airline.”

Dikgetsi also stated that the same agreement was put on the table – for government to pay for all the scheduled flights.

“Despite this glaring disregard for financial regulations, six years down the line, the same airline and agreement was re-introduced and implemented.

“Perhaps we will see in the annual budget presentations how much money has been allocated because up until now, no resolution has been passed before the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature to make allowances for this purpose. We also don’t know if the aircraft in operation is new or has been in use for some time.”

Another senior government official who was involved in the initial negotiations, said that it was necessary to conduct a cost analysis.

“You must also take into account that a vehicle will have to be hired by the official once landing at a particular destination. It is also makes more sense to travel with four officials in one car instead of booking four individual flights.”

He pointed out that with rocketing prices it did make economic sense and would save time to make use of an in-house flight service.

“However this should be done as cost-effectively as possible and not serve to deplete government’s resources.”

Head of Department for Transport, Safety and Liaison Steven Jonkers indicated that the intra-Provincial flight Services had only been in operation for a month.

In response to queries regarding the cost saving measures and how many officials had made use of the airlines so far, he stated that an operational review would be conducted from the third month. “The department cannot unfortunately respond and entertain rumours of faceless officials who continuously provide your office with unfounded and baseless allegations.”

Jonkers stated that disciplinary processes instituted within the department were handled in line with the disciplinary code of conduct and had nothing to do with the air service.”All other aspects have already being provided to your office whereby the department has held press briefings to that extent. Unfortunately your paper only responded on selected aspects and not on the contextual issues as provided.” - Diamond Fields Advertiser