Early in February 2020, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan briefed the Portfolio Committee of Public Enterprises and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on the December 2019 decision to put South African Airways (SAA) under business rescue. A decision was then taken that the business rescue practitioners (BRPs) were to table their business rescue plan to these Committees by March 2020. This did not happen due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
As we now know, the initial R5.5 billion government had provided to sustain the business rescue process has been spent and Minister Gordhan has apparently refused the additional R10 billion the BRPs have asked for to cover the costs of resuscitating SAA post-lockdown.
The BRPs have already asked, and received, three extensions of the deadline to publish their business rescue plan. Why are they dawdling and missing their deadlines? At the rate they are going one wonders whether they plan to rescue the airline or whether they have a mandate from some quarters to destroy it.
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) is of the view that SAA’s BRPs have been running roughshod over the process and the fact that the Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee has not been meeting due to the Covid-19 lockdown, means that no oversight is taking place. This is serious cause for concern.
We now hear that SAA is offering severance packages to its approximately 5,000 employees, a proposal the BRPs have come up with after government indicated that it is broke. This threat of job losses is a move on the BRPs’ part to blackmail government, and therefore the taxpayer.
From the UDM’s point of view, those who have looted SAA with impunity during state capture must be brought to book, because if the stolen monies were paid back where it belonged, it could have been used as a resource to avoid retrenchments. SAA’s thousands of workers should not be made to suffer because of a few greedy individuals who have appropriated public funds for private use.
For the UDM, the key issue is that business rescue must be dealt with comprehensively and not in the piecemeal fashion we have been witnessing. For instance, the nation had been informed that SAA planned to sell assets to fund the proposed retrenchment process, but one wonders at the move to do so before there is a rescue plan in place?
It is critical that the Minister of Public Enterprises tables the rescue plan before the Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee and that he explains the circumstances around SAA so that pertinent questions may be answered. Another matter that the Minister needs to explain and discuss with the Committee is that SAA, like other state-owned enterprises, is top heavy.
The UDM therefore believes it is critical that this Committee should urgently meet in a virtual setting to receive the Minister’s report and to discuss SAA’s situation and the so-called rescue plan.
Mr Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, MP
UDM Deputy-President and Chief Whip in the National Assembly
Member of the Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee