SAA blasts boss’s 'clingwrap' deal

Suspended SAA chief executive Monwabisi Kalawe (Puxley Makgatho, Gallo)

Suspended SAA chief executive Monwabisi Kalawe (Puxley Makgatho, Gallo)

SAA has thrown the book at its suspended chief executive, Monwabisi Kalawe, disclosing potentially damning details of his efforts to promote a controversial baggage wrapping contract – including a series of 93 suspect cellphone calls and messages to the director of his favoured supplier, Bagport.

The details are contained in a forensic investigation compiled by law firm ENS Forensics to probe a series of allegations against Kalawe that led to his suspension last year and to disciplinary proceedings that are due to resume on Monday.

The report found that although there was no evidence of a link between Kalawe and Bagport, Kalawe had gone out of his way to push for Bagport to be given a three-month pilot project without following proper procedures.

It notes: “Mr Kalawe was in regular after-hours contact with the director of Bagport … It is highly irregular to be communicating with a bidder during a formal procurement and tender process and even more so given the after-hours and weekend calls.”

The report makes no allegations of impropriety against Bagport but notes that other service providers were prepared to provide the service at better rates that SAA charged passengers for the service whether or not they made use of it, and that Bagport was overpaid by more than R11-million.

The report contains details of numerous other charges against Kalawe. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Trumped up charges
The forensic report is attached to SAA’s affidavit in answer to Kalawe’s Labour Court application to stop the disciplinary hearing.

Kalawe argued that the case against him was launched on the back of two so-called protected disclosures and should therefore be set aside in terms of legislation designed to protect whistle-blowers.

He argued that the charges against him were trumped up and had been triggered by his allegations that SAA’s powerful board chair, Dudu Myeni, had positioned herself to benefit improperly from SAA’s purchase of new Airbus aircraft.

He did not provide any evidence for these allegations, which Myeni has described in her answering papers as “shocking, untrue and defamatory”.

Myeni, who Kalawe alleged was “untouchable” because of her friendship with President Jacob Zuma, denied receiving bribes and reserved her right to take action against Kalawe for his “malicious” and unfounded attacks on her.

SAA has also hit back at Kalawe, alleging he has embarked on “a vindictive campaign” to discredit Myeni and the SAA board.

Claims meant to embarrass SAA
SAA director Tony Dixon argues in his affidavit that much of Kalawe’s affidavit is not relevant to his claim that his two alleged disclosures are protected. 

Dixon claims the damaging allegations were leaked to embarrass SAA and Myeni publicly “in order to place illegitimate pressure on them to solve his dispute”.

He contends that both instances of Kalawe’s supposed whistle-blowing were nothing of the sort and therefore did not enjoy protection under the Protected Disclosures Act.

The first was an email Kalawe sent to an ENS attorney working with SAA on its long-term turnaround strategy. 

In it he made the startling claim that boardroom ructions were driven by jockeying over a potential R60-billion contract for a new long-haul fleet: “The chair will only be able to deliver to Airbus if she retains the [chief financial officer], gets rid of the [executives] above, gets rid of KPMG, who has been appointed as transaction advisers and … hand[s] the whole project to her favoured execs.”

Fake ‘intelligence
Although Kalawe was suspended just two days after this email was sent to ENS, Dixon and ENS aver that the email was never shared with Myeni or anyone else at SAA and therefore could not have been the basis for them taking action against him.

The second instance was Kalawe’s alleged illegal procurement of bank statements purportedly showing that Myeni had huge offshore accounts.

The statements turned out to be fakes that Kalawe had allegedly spent R150 000 to obtain, supposedly from sources close to “intelligence”.

He sent them for verification to investigator Paul O’Sullivan, who treated them as genuine and proceeded to distribute them widely, including to Myeni, the police and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours.
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