It would be foolish to think that the state capture feeding frenzy has escaped the Airports Company of South Africa. Its beleaguered CEO, Bongani Maseko, through a PR campaign, indicated as much when it was claimed that the Guptas were behind efforts to have him ejected from Acsa. But, however important it is to unravel the extent of corrupt or conflicting commercial agendas and the impact thereof on running the state-owned company, its first order of business must be clearing up the allegations of wrongdoing against Maseko. By JESSICA BEZUIDENHOUT for SCORPIO.
Bongani Maseko, the CEO of the Airports Company of South Africa has been accused of serious supply chain breaches and violations of the Public Finance Management Act – in one case, allegedly, for “personal gain”.
Yet he remains in his job some nine months since a board resolution was passed to have him suspended and charged.
Now the Acsa board has been threatened with court action as the company’s Group Legal Counsel, Bonginkosi Mfusi, intends dragging it to court for its alleged failure to exercise its fiduciary duty as a result of the perceived inaction in the Maseko case.
Mfusi was suspended in September over an alleged unilateral decision to halt any further legal action in a battle between Acsa and Big Five Duty Free. He is challenging his suspension and the charges which he argues are baseless and irrational.
His lawyers have written to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi stating that the failure of the board to act against Maseko amounts to “dereliction” of their responsibility. He has demanded the board acts against Maseko and if they fail to do so he will bring a High Court application.
In November last year, lawyers acting for Acsa had prepared four sets of pre-suspension notices to tackle senior employees implicated in various cases of misconduct emanating from a forensic report by Dr VS Mncube Consulting.
Acsa suspended three of them, its procurement head, Percy Sithole, the head of regional airports, legal counsel, Bongani Machobane, and Jabu Khambule but parked Maseko’s suspension pending the outcome of its investigation.
In February, Sithole, Machobane and Khambule were served with formal charges and their respective disciplinary hearings have all since been wrapped up with the final outcomes pending.
But, while the same forensic report triggered some of the draft charges against Maseko, no formal disciplinary processes have kicked in and the scandal continues to hang over his head as much as it plagues the parastatal.
Daily Maverick has perused various internal and draft documents that detail the terms of Maseko’s intended suspension – as at February.
The terms of the supposed suspension include that Maseko returns his “work tools” and access card, that he refrains from making contact with staff, the company’s clients or shareholders without written permission.
It further spells out Maseko’s rights in terms of the disciplinary process that was seemingly being initiated and details seven charges in a document labelled Annexure A. The charges include:
- That during 2015, Maseko allegedly authorised or ratified the unlawful eviction of Exclusive Books from rental space at OR International Airport, thereby causing Acsa to suffer reputational damage and causing it to incur fruitless and wasteful expenditure in legal costs in contravention of the PFMA.
- That he allegedly tried to undermine Acsa’s efforts to investigate allegations made by a service provider following a media report in March last year; and
- That he allegedly contravened a section of the PFMA by failing to take appropriate steps to prevent unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure by having that service provider paid R7.5-million even though the work done by the company had not been approved by Acsa.
There were two other charges – one relating to his appointment of a private law firm that was not on the company’s panel of approved suppliers to review all its legal cases and a second, for unauthorised expenditure of more than R6-million for hiring a private company to do reputation management work for his “personal benefit”.
“Your misconduct in this regard smacks of dishonesty,” the document reads.
Since then, nothing has happened and the board’s inaction has fuelled speculation that Maseko was somehow being protected.
However, Acsa, in response to questions, said: “The Board had to execute other elements of its resolutions that any decision with respect to Mr Maseko depended on.”
The company did not provide further detail about precisely what this meant.
The company also said that Maseko (he is apparently not permitted to speak to the media on this matter) has not been charged and as such could not comment on any of the specific allegations.
All indications are that this drama will not die down until Acsa either proves its case against Maseko or at least, presents him with the charges to allow him to clear his name.
That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the Acsa board. Here is where another problem seems to have emerged in that there is confusion over the status of three of the eight board members.
Former Transport Minister Dipuo Peters suspended John Lamola, Jabu Luthuli, Kenosi Moroka and Chwayita Mabude from the board earlier this year. This group had allegedly all backed the decision to level charges against Maseko.
Although they quietly slipped back onto the board weeks later – this was after the arrival of Minister Joe Maswanganyi who had taken over from Peters following a Cabinet reshuffle by President Jacob Zuma in March – the case involving Maseko appears to have faded into the background until now.
Lamola confirmed that he resigned in July – this was after his name popped up in the Guptaleaks among those board members who may have been appointed courtesy of the Guptas.
Another board member, when contacted said she was not sure whether she was in fact still a board member and Acsa did not responded to specific questions about the status of these three.
The other two board members could not be reached although two senior insiders told Daily Maverick that the trio were “retired” during the company’s recent AGM.
Should this go unchallenged, it is likely to pave the way for new board appointments and with that, it’s anyone’s guess whether the drama over Maseko will continue or whether it will finally be dealt with decisively. DM
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