Exclusive: Seven senior SAA staff face suspension for misconduct
Times Select understands contracts worth billions of rands are involved
A job for a daughter, sharing secret bid information with the outside world, not advertising tenders and the irregular procurement of cargo equipment.
These are just some of the “very serious” allegations levelled against seven senior South African Airways staff, who are now facing suspension over allegations of misconduct related to contracts worth billions of rands.
The board of SAA’s subsidiary SAA Technical (SAAT) resolved on Thursday to place on suspension the seven following a recommendation from forensic law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH).
CDH had been retained by SAA to study reports from investigations undertaken by Open Water Advanced Risk Solutions, a firm that specialises in enterprise risk management, including forensic accounting, fraud prevention and litigation support services.
An internal board submission seen by Times Select recommends the staff members’ suspension without delay.
“As stipulated above, the allegations against all employees referred to herein are very serious and the company intends to suspend the said employees, however due process will be followed and the employees will be given an opportunity to give reasons on why they should not be suspended prior to a final decision being taken on whether to suspend or not,” said SAA interim general manager for human resources Vuyi Raseroka in the submission.Raseroka also argued that the suspensions be effected without delay because the seven exposed SAA to substantial financial risk, because of their seniority, and because there was a fear that other employees already facing disciplinary action on related matters would cry foul over inequality in the treatment of employees.
The submission shows that the proposed suspensions are related to employees’ conduct in contracts awarded to Bridgestone Aircraft Tire Europe (SA) to procure aircraft tyres, a logistics tender to Bollore Africa, and an exterior and interior paint systems tender that went to Safomar Industrial Brands (SIB).
These tenders formed part of procurement totalling at least R4.5-billion in the last 15 years.
These deficiencies include not advertising tenders and accepting bids from bidders who missed critical deadlines and criteria (and in some instances doctoring documents), as well as one case in which an SAAT employee had an inappropriate relationship with Bollore Africa in a tender worth just under R200-million a year.
The Bollore Africa and the Bridgestone Aircraft Tire Europe (SA) contracts were eventually cancelled.
The extent of the relationship saw the employee, who shared internal bid information with the company and was dismissed from SAA, land a job for his daughter at the company. SAAT performs maintenance and repairs of all SAA aircraft and other aircraft and is the biggest maintenance and repair organisation in Africa.
Two of the employees, a specialist and senior buyer from procurement, were also found to have been involved in the irregular procurement of a cargo door “despite knowledge that SIB is not contracted to SAAT in the supplying of such specialised aircraft components, and without the prerequisite DOA”.
Times Select understands that the seven, whose names are known, were served with letters of intention to suspend on Friday, and had until Monday to give reasons why they should not be suspended.
The airline’s spokesperson, Tlali Tlai, said: “Whilst we cannot disclose the business or discuss the agenda in the media, we confirm that there was a board meeting at SAA Technical on Thursday. Furthermore, we confirm that no individual has been suspended at SAA Technical at this stage.”He said the airline was acting in line with recommendations contained in the reports and that SAA was still processing them.
“The balance of the reports are currently being processed. It is important that we act judiciously and avoid compromising the integrity of our internal processes and in turn violate the rights of any individuals referred to in those reports.
“We would like to emphasise, any individual referred to in those reports must be presumed innocent until otherwise proven,” he said.
The suspensions follow those last month of SAA chief financial officer Phumeza Nhantsi and SAAT CEO Musa Zwane, which rattled SAA’s lenders.
At the time several stakeholders and insiders questioned the decision, arguing Nhantsi had been cleared of any wrongdoing by several investigations including those by the public protector and the national Treasury.
They alluded to the fact that she stood her ground in the face of several attempts to rope her into circumventing procurement processes at SAA to appoint service providers on multi-million tenders.
Tlali said: “The company initiated or caused these investigations to be undertaken as there were grounds to believe that it was justified to conduct investigations.
“Management and the board will make decisions that are in the best interests of the company and will make appropriate principled calls based on objective facts.”