SAA bites the biscuit over dodgy snacks tender
A Cape Town biscuit manufacturer has tasted sweet revenge after a bunfight with South African Airways (SAA) boss Nico Bezuidenhout over a dodgy snacks tender.
A National Treasury probe into the R15-million tender to provide in-flight crackers for SAA flights confirmed several procurement anomalies - and recommended the airline do business with Mantelli's Biscuits owner Simon Mantell.
The report follows a turbulent showdown between Mantell and SAA over the tender involving legal threats, stormy meetings with SAA legal managers and a bizarre "wager" involving Bezuidenhout and a bottle of whiskey.
Mantell, renowned for taking on prominent politicians in cheeky radio adverts, found himself pitted against SAA's top brass after crying foul over the tender awarded in February last year - but then mysteriously "downgraded" a month later to "preferred supplier" status.
block_quotes_start We got the highest score and were awarded the tender. There can be no legitimate justification for us not to have been awarded the business block_quotes_end
"From having a business class seat I was suddenly chucked into the cargo hold," Mantell fumed this week.
He said he had been forced to "eat crumbs" during a series of meetings set up to resolve the matter with unsympathetic airline managers.
Bezuidenhout, who was embroiled in controversy last year after his academic qualifications were over-stated in SAA annual reports, personally met Mantell in February this year in an attempt to defuse the situation.
But the move backfired. Mantell claims Bezuidenhout refused to act despite being in possession of evidence supporting his claims.
"The reality is we got the highest score and we were awarded the tender," Mantell said. "There can be no legitimate justification for us not to have been awarded the business."
In addition, Mantell claims Bezuidenhout made light of his grievance by offering him a bottle of whiskey if the biscuit boss could assist in the process of reducing SAA's staffing headcount.
"I find the comment particularly misguided in the context of SAA's current negotiations with union leaders to retrench over 700 workers from SAA," Mantell said.
The stalemate prompted Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October to report the matter to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, who handed it over to the National Treasury.
Last month, the Treasury released its draft report to affected parties. It claims SAA's wholly owned subsidiary AirChefs, which handles in-flight catering, not only mangled the dry snacks tender but committed several embarrassing blunders and oversights.
AirChefs blunders that were detailed in the draft Treasury report included:
Mantelli's was the only one of the nine bidders that supplied a full tender pack. The other eight bidders (which included large listed companies) did not submit all the required documents for bid evaluation;
Bid evaluation forms were neither signed nor dated, and did not contain all the necessary scores; and
The summary of the scores submitted to the bid adjudication committee did not correspond with individual score sheets.
Responding to Business Times queries via e-mail, Bezuidenhout conceded there had been errors, but blamed the problem on AirChefs: "AirChefs erred around the administration of this particular tender and Mr Mantell was left with the impression that he in fact secured the sole supply of crackers to SAA."
He said he had repeatedly encouraged Mantell to assume his position on the supplier panel, which would put his product in the running for AirChefs clients.
He also assured Mantell that legal action would be taken in the event of any fraudulent or corrupt practices.
"Mr Mantell accepted [this] but then shifted emphasis from disputing the sole supply vs panel aspect to questioning the validity of another bidder's submission," Bezuidenhout said.
Regarding Bezuidenhout's whiskey comment, SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said: "At the one and only meeting where the acting CEO met with Mr Mantell to have a discussion on the matter, [Mantell] indicated that he had suspicions that there was intentional wrongdoing by somebody.
"Mr Bezuidenhout responded to him by saying that he would buy Mr Mantell a bottle of whiskey if he were to point out any such criminal as headcount in the company was already at unsustainable levels."
He said SAA had already implemented the recommendations of the Treasury report - which included doing business with Mantell.
Mantell said he would wait for the final Treasury report before taking further action if necessary.
He said despite the Treasury's recommendation that SAA and/or AirChefs do business with him, to date the airline had not done so.