Did Pravin Gordhan duck and dive at a meeting of the parliamentary public accounts committee because he was aware he may have played fast and loose with government controls on spending?
That’s the pertinent question being asked by Alf Lees of the Democratic Alliance (DA) on the fiasco of the South African Airways (SAA) flight in late February to Belgium to collect Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
It appears as though the flag-waving SAA flight – which itself almost crashed, allegedly due to pilot error – was unnecessary for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Johnson & Johnson has not denied that its “all inclusive” price for the vaccines, which are sold on a “not for profit” basis – its contribution to combating the Covid-19 pandemic – actually includes transport costs.
Even if that were not the case, our investigation has established that a one-ton cargo, similar to that of the vaccine load, could have been transported to South Africa on an air cargo flight at a maximum cost of R200 000 … and maybe even less than that.
Whatever way you slice it, the R5 million spent by the department of public enterprises (responsible minister, Gordhan) looks a lot like the “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” which has characterised the spending of our government departments.
It’s more than just something to tut-tut about, though – it is, prima facie, a possible grave violation of the Public Finance Management Act on the part of all those involved, including Gordhan.
The buck for such conduct can only stop in one place – the desk of the minister.
The DA is talking about bringing charges against Gordhan and, for once, it is more than party politicking.
These are serious questions about control over the public purse. They need to be probed thoroughly and the public must be given answers.
No one is above the law.