SAA latest quarterly report (meeting postponed)

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Finance Standing Committee

16 May 2018
Chairperson: Mr T Tobias (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

A briefing by South African Airways (SAA) to the Standing Committee was called off after Members from the ANC and DA disputed whether a decision was taken to close the meeting by the Committee at its previous engagement with SAA – this was so that SAA could provide finer details of its turnaround strategy without revealing competitively sensitive information. Today’s meeting was initially publicised as a closed meeting but then became open to the public. The Acting Chairperson had decided it was best to call the meeting off until the Hansard, of the last meeting between the Committee and SAA, was retrieved as proof of whether a decision was taken on whether today’s meeting would be open or closed to the public – the DA disputed that such a decision was made.

The Acting Chairperson requested that all documentation handed out to Members during the meeting be returned but the DA refused to do so, arguing the presentation did not contain information which should not be in the public domain, and walked out of the meeting. This was after the DA pointed out House Chairperson Frolick approved the application for a closed meeting on 7 May on condition it was approved by the Committee but argued such approval was not granted. The DA also lamented wasteful expenditure due to SAA flying all the way to Cape Town only for the meeting to be cancelled and said this expenditure should “fall squarely on the shoulders of” the Acting Chairperson.

Chairperson Y Carrim (ANC) is currently in China.

Meeting report

The Chairperson outlined the status of today’s meeting, based on a decision when South African Airways (SAA) last appeared in front of the Committee, which the Acting Chairperson said she was not part of, is to have this meeting closed as SAA was going to present its turnaround strategy. This was a decision taken in principle during the Committee’s last meeting with SAA – this was so that Members could receive finer details of how the new CEO would turnaround the institution to make it profitable. Some Members in that meeting stressed the need for SAA to have a competitive advantage against its competitors for it to reach profitability.

As today’s meeting approached, there was a dispute within the Committee on whether the Committee in fact agreed today’s meeting would be closed, as decided in principle during the Committee’s last meeting with SAA. In the interests of fairness, it is imperative to prove via Hansard that indeed the Committee reached this agreement in principle. It would take a few days to retrieve the Hansard to prove the discretionary powers of the Chairperson, in terms of National Assembly Rule 184 (2), to close the meeting and that there was no dispute about this at that particular time. Due to the fact that there were many meetings happening in Parliament, it was not always easy to access the Hansard required – in one day, there could be up to 30 meetings. Additionally, the report due to be received from SAA today would not be an ordinary quarterly report but would speak to numerics.

In light of this, the Acting Chairperson came to the decision to call off the meeting today. Therefore, SAA would not make this presentation until proof was produced around the decision of the Chairperson to close the meeting. Any documentation received by Members today must be returned to the secretariat and no Member was to leave the venue with the documents – this was insisted. Committee meetings were an extension of the House so the same rules applied.

The Acting Chairperson informed Members that she had been communicating profusely with the Chairperson, sometimes at 01h00 in the morning as the Chairperson was in China. Connectivity was also a problem.

The DA refused to return the documents and the Acting Chairperson said parliamentary security must be called. Members were asked to remember the powers of the Chairperson to convene and dissolve meetings.

Mr D Maynier (DA) said the assumptions of the Acting Chairperson around the chain of events simply could not be true – the decision to close the meeting, which the DA disputes, could not have happened because the Chairperson’s application for a closed meeting was only made on 7 May 2018 and was then approved by Mr C Frolick (House Chairperson on Committees) on 7 May 2018 with a proviso, subject to the approval of the Committee agreeing to a closed meeting. The Committee has never taken such a decision so the facts are disputed.

Mr Maynier then disputed the powers of the Acting Chairperson – the Acting Chairperson simply did not have the power to terminate a meeting. He asked the SAA Chairman whether there was anything in his presentation which he believed could not, or should not, be made public and if he did, at any time, request National Treasury, or this Committee, to close this meeting.

The Acting Chairperson released SAA to leave the meeting. She did not take Mr Maynier’s points as he was not present when the Committee arrived at the decision to close this meeting. She would only listen to Members who were present at said meeting.

Mr A Lees (DA), looking at the SAA document, did not see anything in it which should not be in the public domain – most of it was already in the public domain in other documents. The termination of this meeting would be taken up and it would have to be assessed whether there is legal provision for the Acting Chairperson to do this. The Committee has not made a decision to close this meeting – the Acting Chairperson has done so on her own and not even put it to vote. The wasteful expenditure incurred by National Treasury and SAA must fall squarely on the shoulders of the Acting Chairperson. As he said yesterday, he was not aware of any resolution of this Committee to close the meeting scheduled today.

Ms P Nkonyeni (ANC) said it was very unfortunate that the discussion of the Committee was not properly captured around having a closed meeting. If her memory served her well, the SAA team made a presentation and there were issues raised that fell squarely...

The Acting Chairperson implored Members to not speak to events which transpired. The meeting today was called off because it is effectively the ANC’s word against the DA’s word so the meeting did not have a standing to continue. SAA appeared today under the impression the meeting would be closed. The facts must first be verified so that the meeting has a standing and basis so that there was no dispute. Records were needed for proof – memories could not be used. If it was found that there was no agreement, the meeting would have to be opened. The decision taken to call off today’s meeting was because of the dispute on the decision the Committee took and not the decision of the Acting Chairperson. It was not the fault of the Acting Chairperson that Members disputed their own decisions. The Acting Chairperson was only carrying out the duty on verifying the facts on whether the Committee took this decision or not. The Acting Chairperson herself was not present at the meeting when such decision was said to be taken.

The Committee could use the time today on the presentations on two pieces of legislation before Members, one being the PIC Bill. Members would have to agree to the Bill for it to be put before the House.

The DA walked out of the meeting.

The Acing Chairperson said there was nothing she could do to get the SAA document from the DA because parliamentary security was not present. The Committee secretariat must ensure processes were done properly if the meeting was treated as closed.

A decision on the Bill would be taken at the next meeting of the Committee due to the lack of quorum.

The meeting was adjourned.

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