To a great extent, Pravin Gordhan is responsible for the significant disruption that has negatively impacted our most crucial state-owned enterprises. He has consistently overstepped his role as a representative of the shareholder and is primarily at fault. His behaviour has been arrogant, and he has acted as if he is the sole proprietor of state-owned companies. His lack of transparency on the SAA-Takatso deal is a clear example of a minister operating with roguery and not in the best interest of the public.

By Themba Khumalo

If you feel like a fish out of water trying to navigate the complexities of SAA, you are not alone. I am just as lost in this mind-boggling SAA puzzle, scratching my head and unable to make head or tail of it.

It has been a wild and confusing journey, with Pravin Gordhan, the minister of public enterprises, leading us down the garden path time and time again.

SAA found itself in hot water in December 2019 when the commercial banks, which had been keeping it afloat, decided to call it quits and cut off the purse strings. As a result, SAA was left high and dry and had to seek business rescue. At that point, SAA was burning through cash like there was no tomorrow, to the tune of R500 million a month. They had been racking up losses and relying on government bailouts for years, all thanks to some seriously lousy management, corruption, and sheer incompetence.

To successfully emerge from financial turmoil, Gordhan actively pursued a savvy business ally for SAA, aiming to infuse the airline with both funds and expertise to soar once again. This clandestine operation was shrouded in mystery, with Gordhan keeping Parliament and the Treasury in the dark until he unexpectedly unveiled the chosen partner to the public in June 2021. The Treasury was caught off guard, learning about the development through the media.

Apart from Takatso’s commitment to inject R3 billion into the company for operational funds, both sides were unable to disclose specific details due to the announcement being made before the completion of the necessary due diligence. In February 2022, as inquiries about the agreement mounted, Gordhan issued another statement, acknowledging the deal between Takatso and the government while remaining tight-lipped about the elaborate specifics of the transaction.

During this time, there were accusations that Gordhan had sidelined his former director-general, Kgothatso Tlhakudi, from being involved in the SAA deal, even though Tlhakudi was the accounting officer for the department. Reports suggested that Tlhakudi had disagreed with Gordhan over the valuation of SAA, which was agreed upon at R51 in the sale and purchase agreement signed while Tlhakudi was not present.

While the citizens of the Republic may have lost interest in keeping up with the intricate details of the SAA drama, they remain sceptical of any assertion that this deal was made with their best interests in mind. The excessive confusion and lack of transparency have left little room for belief in any other narrative.

Once more, Gordhan faced a barrage of criticism from the Public Enterprises Committee in parliament on Wednesday. They accused him of not cooperating with their investigation into the allegations made by Tlhakudi about the integrity of the SAA sale to the Takatso consortium.

Tlhakudi claimed that the sale of SAA to Takatso was a ploy orchestrated by Gordhan to benefit a privileged few. He contended that Takatso was not initially part of the plans outlined by the transaction adviser Rand Merchant Bank and lacked the essential financial and technical expertise to successfully finalise the agreement.

The primary issue of contention revolves around Gordhan’s failure to provide the committee with the share sale and purchase agreement and the list of potential strategic equity partners for SAA, despite multiple requests to do so.

The committee has been pulling teeth to get the documents from Gordhan for nearly a year.

He told the committee that he could not hand over the requested documents due to the confidentiality and nondisclosure terms outlined in the agreement with Takatso.

Parliament legal adviser, Andile Tetyana, who has been advising the committee throughout the process said, “I don’t know what the committee makes of this, because the minister accounts here, and this is a big transaction which has a huge public element because public money is being used.”

Gordhan also claimed before the committee that Tlhakudi played a role in the lead-up to the deal with Takatso and did not express any objections. He emphasized that the department followed a just, fair, and open process and that Takatso met the department’s criteria by possessing both the financial and operational expertise necessary for the successful revival of SAA.

Gordhan finds himself in a bewildering situation, akin to a deer caught in the glare of a set of headlights. The auditor general’s findings on the transaction were far from favourable, highlighting the Department of Public Enterprises’ failure to adhere to a formal process for assessing proposals from potential partners.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that there was no indication the proposals were fairly evaluated based on predetermined criteria. The Special Investigating Unit is also delving into the details of the transaction.

We were once duped into believing that Pravin was the quintessence of moral rectitude and integrity, boasting the fortitude to lead without succumbing to concealed transgressions.

However, his latest behaviour and the revelations surrounding SAA, have exposed his true nature as a person of questionable character, who had opportunistically taken advantage of the shortcomings of the previous administration.

Gordhan’s excessive use of falsehoods and evasion leads me to question whether Tlhakudi’s claims regarding the deceitful nature of the SAA-Takatso deal may indeed be accurate.

That said, Gordan is a pharmacist who is like a confused conductor, orchestrating a symphony of wrong medicines for the country’s ailing state-owned entities.

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