A company implicated in a tender irregularity at South African Airways (SAA) has hit back at a report in the Sunday Independent.
The publication reported over the weekend that SAA acting board chairperson Thandeka Mgoduso stands accused of engineering the award of a R200 million tender to business management consultancy 21st Century.
In a statement, 21st Century CEO Chris Blair said the report’s claim that the company received a lucrative consultancy contract was “inaccurate”. He added that “the remainder of the article also contains factual errors and has cast a disparaging light on the company in question”.
“The allegations made in the article are grossly inaccurate, implicating 21st Century in underhanded dealings and obtaining the awarded tender via inappropriate channels,” Blair said.
Blair accuses Sunday Independent head of investigations Piet Rampedi, who wrote the story, of not having allowed him right of reply to the allegations.
“If the journalist in question had allowed Blair to respond, he would have had the facts before publication,” Blair said.
“Not only was there no relationship with the acting board chair, but there were also no pre-meeting as alleged in the article, with the first time the parties having met at the official presentation round at SAA. All requests and correspondence were conducted via the procurement department at SAA, as it should be.
“Furthermore, there was no price escalation on the tender, in fact, one of our executive directors agreed to a requested discount on the proposal to support our ongoing commitment to our country’s goals. Added to this, the Rand amount quoted in the article is grossly inaccurate, with the discounted proposal coming in at under R300,000 – the full amount of the project.
“The insignificant depth of the investigation and sensationalist reporting of this article not only serves as a major discredit to the media platform but more importantly to SAA, ourselves as suppliers, and the South African public who were ‘fed’ what I can only describe as lies. Creating more ill will and negativity in a country where many of us are evolving and growing the environment for all in a positive manner,” Blair said.
21st Century has requested an apology from the publication.
SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali has since released a statement calling the allegations in the story “baseless” and saying the airline wants to correct “factual inaccuracies”.
While confirming that the appointment of 21st Century was subject to an internal investigation by SAA’s audit department, the airline says the amount involved was R344,000 rather than “more than R200 million” as reported.
“The appointment of the service provider was managed by SAA Supply Chain Management (SCM), not by the board of directors.
“The SCM of SAA is entirely responsible for all procurement process. Furthermore, the internal audit report makes no finding whatsoever against any individual member of REMCO, especially the SAA Acting Chairperson, Thandeka Mgoduso.
“Ms Mgoduso has no commercial association with 21st Century. There were also no secret meetings between Ms Mgoduso and 21st Century,” the statement said.
Sunday Independent, meanwhile, has since hit back at the 21st Century statement with one of their own, calling the company’s take on their report “baseless and misleading”.
“Mr Blair’s claims are unfounded and devoid of any truth. They are also a deliberate distortion of facts with the sole purpose of misleading the public.
“Firstly, our story is based on an internal report commissioned by the SAA Board’s chief risk and compliance officer adv Vusi Pikoli. We reported that acting SAA board chairperson MsThandeka Mgoduso personally engineered the award of the contract to 21st Century, a consultancy firm with which she is alleged to have a previous working relationship.
“It also revealed that Mgoduso had personally submitted the names of the three companies from which quotations had to be sought, and intervened in 21st Century’s favour when the SAA bid evaluation committee initially scored its competitor higher.
“‘I am aware of several meetings held by the Chair (Mgoduso) of Remco (Remuneration Committee) with 21st Century Representatives and Vik at either 21st Century premises or SAA premises. The service provider was briefed all the way by the Chair of Remco (Remuneration Committee) from the beginning up to the end as she (Mgoduso) has meetings with them,’ read part of the report.
“The authenticity and veracity of this report has not been denied by its custodian, SAA. Neither has it been disputed by Mr Pikoli and Mr Siyakhula Vilakazi, the SAA chief audit officer who compiled it.
“Secondly, our reporter, Karabo Ngoepe, sent Mr Blair a list of questions about the contract and the nature of the relationship, if any, between his company and Ms Mgoduso.
“Mr Blair chose not to respond to specific questions, instead he said via Whatsapp:
“‘We will respond to all these questions in a formal letter by close of business on Monday. Suffice to say that there was no irregularity in the awarding of the project and you need to make sure of this before publishing anything defamous. We are willing to be interviewed by you at a suitable time.’
“We are, therefore, surprised that Mr Blair is now attempting to cast aspersions on our story which is based on a report whose authenticity and veracity its custodians are not questioning.
“It is also mind-boggling that he dedicates his time and energy to attacking us, the messengers, instead of responding to valid questions about how 21st Century got the contract, the fact that it held meetings with Ms Mgoduso during the bidding process, and the nature of the relationship it has with acting the Board chairperson.
“Could Mr Blair please deal with the report and its findings, and stop shooting the messengers to deflect attention from the real issues,” the statement concludes.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with comment from SAA and with a statement from the Sunday Independent. 14:59, October 15.