New SAA chair hits jackpot

02 October 2012 - 02:31 By GRAEME HOSKEN
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Controversy continues to dog financially embattled SAA with the contentious appointment of its new board chairman, Vuyisile Kona.

Kona, the former head of SAA's subsidiaries, was axed in 2005 by then SAA CEO Khaya Ngqula.

He sued the airline for, he alleged, failing to pay him his "termination contract" in full.

SAA - which is asking for a R6-billion taxpayer bailout - and Kona said they reached an "amicable" agreement.

Kona is linked to a trust that allegedly improperly lent R100-million taken from the members' retirement fund of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers' Union to investment company Canyon Springs.

The money was, according to the union's general secretary, Andre Kriel, lent improperly by Trilinear Empowerment Trust, of which Kona was a trustee.

Enoch Godongwana, former deputy minister of economic development, and his wife, Thandiwe, have also been embroiled in the multimillion-rand scandal involving the union.

Thandiwe Godongwana, a director of Canyon Springs, is accused of borrowing R93-million from Trilinear Capital, which manages five provident funds for the union. Much of the cash was paid over by Trilinear before a loan agreement was signed.

Godongwana resigned from his government position in January.

Kriel said yesterday that it was not known whether Kona was directly involved with Canyon Springs or if he was liable for the transfer of the retirement funds.

Kona's appointment to the SAA board was made after eight of its 14 members, including chairman Cheryl Carolus, resigned on Friday.

They quit after a report of financial problems at the national carrier was leaked.

In an interview broadcast on 702 Talk Radio yesterday, Carolus said she had resigned because of huge frustrations that were "making life difficult".

"The last straw was a media report saying SAA had not completed its financials, which was why the AGM was postponed," she said.

"This was a lie. This has huge legal implications. It means board members were breaking the law and guilty of dereliction of duty."

Carolus said the financial statements had been completed and the Public Enterprise Ministry and the Treasury had acknowledged receipt of them.

She would not respond to the lies being perpetuated, she said.

"The minister calling me a liar is unfortunate. The real issue here is the ineptitude that exists."

Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba responded by saying he was focusing solely on the airline's interests.

"I am not here to entertain individuals' opinions . it is not necessary to listen to different opinions. As the shareholder [in SAA] we have the prerogative to take necessary decisions," he said.

Neither Carolus nor Gigaba were available for further comment.

Gigaba's spokesman, Mayihlome Tshwete, said Kona had not been convicted of involvement in the pension fund matter.

"We have assessed his history and his aviation knowledge. The minister feels Kona - who is an aviation technocrat - has the ability to direct SAA through these difficult times."

Tshwete said that though the resignation of board members was "unfortunate" it was not a "crisis".

"We acknowledge that the company is in a difficult financial position. The resignations, however, have no influence on SAA's financial position," he said.

The resignations had pre-empted the board's planned "rotation" at the next AGM, he said.

The finance minister and Gigaba were "heavily engaged" on the appeal for a bailout for SAA.

"We are hoping to make an announcement on this and the conditions at the next AGM."

He denied that the delay in the release of the airline's financial report was the result of a breakdown in the relationship between Gigaba and the board.

"Because of continuing negotiations with the Treasury the report could not be released.

"The minister believes SAA needs to be strengthened and placed in a position in which it no longer has to request money."

SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said the airline was not in a crisis situation and was operating as normal.

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