The commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Friday that Swissport SA allegedly did not have a grounding license at the time of its submission for a tender at SAA.
The tender in question indicated a critical criterion where the bidder must have a valid Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) license to qualify.
“What we saw was the Swissport SA at the time that the tender closed, they did not have a license from ACSA to provide services. The closing date was July 1, 2008,” Polani Sokombela, a business executive at the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA), told the commission.
“[In addition], upon my team inspecting an email from an official from ACSA dated June 4, 2008 – it was noted that at the time of submission of Swissport SA’s bid, they were not in possession of a grounding license,” he added.
According to Sokombela, a letter – dated July 14, 2018, from the Swissport president that was addressed to SAA – indicated it had been awarded the third ramp – effective from September 1, 2008 – for a period of five years.
The commission is continuing with aviation-related evidence by zooming into the AGSA audit report that delves into the role private firms played when they were conducting a joint audit of SAA as well as what the AGSA found following the five years of audit work, from 2012 to 2016, during which the entity was given clean audits.
The AGSA took over the SAA audit in the 2016/17 financial year after the entity had received consecutive clean audits for five years from private firms PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Nkonki.
According to Sokombela, a third bidder – Menzies Aviation – felt disadvantaged in the bidding process due to the other bidders who were already doing the groundwork for SAA.
As a result, they applied for an extension on June 30, 2018, which was subsequently denied by the airline.
“SAA did not grant that extension and that ended up with Menzies taking SAA to court. On December 4, 2009, the High Court ruled in favor of Menzies.
“The tender process was set aside as it was found to be unconstitutional and unlawful,” Sokombela said.
Despite the High Court ruling, the AGSA found the airline awarded the contract.
“So, they just disregarded a court order?” the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, asked.
“That is what appears here,” Sokombela responded.
This tender was one of the “transactions” the AGSA included when it was evaluating risk assessment at the airline.
“We identified this tender as we [needed] to ensure that we test it. There was a lot of media attention on it, and challenges reflected there. It formed part of our specific selection.
“One of the concerns with the tender is that it took four years between the closing date of the award and the date that it was awarded by the board of directors [to be awarded]. Why would a tender take so long to be awarded?” Sokombela said.