/ 28 February 2024

MPs deny Gordhan’s bid for non-disclosure on SAA sale documents

Pravingordhan 179798(1)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday took the exceptional step to meet in camera to hear Minister Pravin Gordhan’s version of events in the ongoing wrangling with his former director general over the sale of SAA.

In December, members of the same committee decided that the saga of the airline’s sale to the Takatso consortium should become the subject of a parliamentary investigation. In that meeting, MPs accused Gordhan of not playing open cards with them.

At issue is the minister’s failure to submit two documents — the shortlist of bidders for a 51-stake in the national carrier and the sale agreement eventually signed with Takatso.

Committee member Khaya Magaxa asked the media to leave the room, as per prior agreement with Gordhan, but refused to acquiesce to a request by the minister for the members of the committee to sign non-disclosure agreements.

This was made clear in a letter from him to Gordhan six days ago. 

Magaxa said he wished to place on record that the committee “will not give the nod to any attempt to unlawfully curtail its constitutionally entrenched oversight role”. MPs served at the behest of the public and could not be “muzzled” on matters of public interest, he added.

The fact that the committee had agreed to the minister’s request for an camera meeting on Wednesday should “not read as an exaltation of secrecy above accountability”, particularly where public funds are at issue.

Magaxa further disputed Gordhan’s contention in his letter that the only information he is faulted for not sharing with the committee is the valuation of SAA prior to its sale and the sale of shares agreement. “This is plainly incorrect as your office has, to date, neglected and/or refused to furnish us with a shortlist of selected entities from which a final determination was made. I reiterate that the committee would like to have sight of this important document.”

He warned that the committee wished to have sight of all requested documents after lunchtime on Wednesday, failing which it “will explore every available legal avenue to vindicate its constitutional rights”.

The committee requested the documents in the course of dealing with an allegation by the former director general of public enterprises, Kgathatso Tlhakudi, that the deal was unlawful for two reasons.

First, Tlhakudi said, the terms of the agreement were withheld from him even though he was the accounting officer of the department because, in his view, Gordhan failed to act in the national interest and instead struck a deal for the benefit of a few select individuals.

Second, Takatso was not among the strategic equity partners on a shortlist provided to the minister.

Tlhakudi has filed a protected disclosure in which he claimed that SAA had been undervalued by at least R7  billion as part of its takeover by the consortium.

The to-and-fro between him and Gordhan has lasted more than a year. Tlhakudi was placed on precautionary suspension on 24 June last year and dismissed on 26 May this year. He took the matter to the labour court but failed in his bid for reinstatement.

He claimed he was sidelined to stop him exposing wrongdoing, while Gordhan has insisted he was sanctioned for unethical conduct, including meddling in the appointment of the department’s director for security and facilities. 

It emerged on Tuesday in parliament that the department of public enterprises failed to give the auditor general the valuation of the airline. The auditor general’s office was briefing parliament on four years of financial statements for the carrier, up to 2021, which only recently reached parliament.