SOUTH African Airways is to go to court to recover some R31 million that it believes was spent without proper authorisation by former CEO, Khaya Ngqula.
The chair of the airline’s board, Cheryl Carolus said the money included some R27 million which Ngqula handed out to senior managers as “retention bonuses” and a further R3.8 million he spent on hospitality suites, junkets and the like.
Carolus’s move represents the first serious break with the long-standing tradition of punishing underperforming state functionaries with golden handshakes.
Ngqula left SAA with just such a handshake which cost the airline R8 million.
In the normal course of events, the departing miscreant’s files are left in an untidy pile next to the defunct photocopier on the stairwell.
Carolus is having none of this.
Based on an audit — which was commissioned by the previous board under then chairman Jakes Gerwel — she wants the public’s money back.
And so it should be.
The leadership of a corporation in as compromised a financial position as SAA should show a little modesty.
Taking friends on junkets to the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany, the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France and the 2008 Monte Carlo tennis tournament cannot be justified while South African taxpayers are being asked to provide billions of rands in subsidies.
Leaving aside the attractions of the buffet in the luxury suite of the Stade de France, what was Ngqula thinking when he sponsored the jaded Argentinian golfer Angel Cabrera to the tune of R21 million?
That viewers of golf on television would instruct their secretaries to book them on SAA because Cabrera tied for 18th place at the US Masters?
Carolus is leading the way, but will she be followed or will she find herself on one of those unwanted crusades which stirs up apathy?
There is certainly no sign from President Jacob Zuma that a strict approach will be taken when government ministers or heads of department exceed their spending limits.
The over R100 million blown by government departments and parastatals on World Cup tickets presents itself as a handy test case.
The Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan publicly warned civil servants who spent excessively on tickets that they would face the consequences.
Well, they went ahead regardless and treated themselves and their friends to a fabulous World Cup financed by money that was supposed to go towards the services they are contracted to deliver.
Will they too be asked to pay back the money? Carolus needs allies if this fight to restore probity is to be won.