Gigaba: Still no policy on private terminals

07 November 2018 - 08:06 By Andisiwe Makinana
Minister Malusi Gigaba.
Minister Malusi Gigaba.
Image: Peter Mogaki. Sowetan.

“Go and rest!”

Those were the last words MPs said to home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba as the parliamentary committee that oversees his portfolio decided it had heard enough from him regarding the private terminal operated by the Oppenheimer family at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The meeting was convened to allow Gigaba to brief the committee on the agreement between the department of home affairs and Fireblade Aviation about the terminal at the airport.

But for two and a half hours‚ MPs were at odds over whether Gigaba should address them at all - given that the Constitutional Court and the public protector have already ruled against him and MPs could not be seen to be reviewing those decisions.

Some felt that Gigaba should be given a chance to state his story‚ especially following his comments to the media over the weekend that he had never been given an opportunity to have his say.

The Oppenheimers told the same committee last week that Gigaba lied to parliament when he said he had never approved their private use of a terminal at the airport. Gigaba denies giving the Oppenheimers such approval.

Committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke sought to assure Gigaba that his committee's work had “nothing to do with a plot to embarrass him”. They were merely exercising their responsibility to hold him to account as taxpayers' money was being spent in the running of the private terminal‚ he said.

After much dilly-dallying the minister was finally allowed to address MPs - but he told them that due to pending matters‚ he would confine himself to operational issues around Fireblade Aviation.

Before MPs stopped Gigaba in his tracks‚ the minister indicated that there was still no policy framework to deal with private VVIP terminals. He called for broad public consultation in formulating such a policy.

“This being the first one of its kind‚ it means now a policy has to be developed so a framework can be provided on how such issues are dealt with going forward‚” he said.

“Another question that arises is‚ whose custody is this? Because airports are under the Airports Company SA‚ which is under the department of transport. The department of home affairs is one of the departments that renders a service at the port of the entry. Does this decision now mean that VVIP terminals have been rendered a responsibility of the department of home affairs?” asked Gigaba.

He raised concerns over the procurement process to be followed for such VVIP terminals in future‚ given the precedent that has been set regarding Fireblade and following the court rulings in the matter.

He said the entire government process of awarding contracts and tenders in government will need to be clarified. “What we are saying is we are going to take to cabinet a discussion‚ which will take into consideration the implications that have arisen as a result of this decision‚” said Gigaba.

The Oppenheimers told the committee last week that they paid the department of home affairs about R117‚000 a month for their services - an amount MPs felt was meagre‚ saying it was also not clear how it was arrived at.

Home affairs chief financial officer Gordon Hollamby said the funding model was discussed at a meeting with Fireblade in January. At the meeting they agreed on a costing model that would allow the department to be reimbursed for the direct salary costs of four home affairs official working eight-hour shifts.

The agreement didn't provide for premium services or overtime in the event that flights arrived outside the normal eight-hour window.

Hollamby said the money‚ R1.4-million per annum‚ paid by Fireblade to home affairs was for the direct personal costs of the four officials. Should they be required to provide additional services‚ that amount would not be sufficient. He revealed that they were not charging the company for line rental or equipment leases.

The department did not keep the money it receives from Fireblade‚ he said. It treated it as revenue and deposited it in the national revenue fund.

Thulani Mavuso‚ the acting director-general of home affairs‚ revealed that the SA Revenue Service had not collected any excise duties since Fireblade began its operations at OR Tambo.

Mavuso explained to MPs that Fireblade Aviation operates on a trust relationship with the department of home affairs and other agencies operating at the facility. There was a draft memorandum of understanding entered into with the border control operational co-ordinating committee‚ but this had lapsed. Now‚ in the absence of an MOU‚ Fireblade Aviation was likely to continue operations until a new memorandum of understanding and policy were in place‚ said Mavuso.

He highlighted security concerns with the current arrangement‚ saying during times when no flights are reported for either arrivals or departures‚ no department or agency has sight of what happens at the facility. “This arrangement is therefore considered to be the main risk. The State Security Agency will need to assess and monitor the impact of such an arrangement regarding the operations during these non-operational times‚” he said.

Mavuso also raised concerns about challenges of capacity in terms of human resources for all the state agencies that offer services at the terminal. He said these also impacted on resources required to ensure logistical arrangements‚ oversight and reporting.

MPs will draft a report for consideration of the national assembly on the way forward regarding the Fireblade operation.

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