Limpopo Premier Stanley Mathabatha asserts that the state-owned enterprise (SOE) responsible for overseeing 56 airstrips and airports in the province is a complete failure with no potential for success.
Mathabatha presented his views to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) at the provincial legislature in Polokwane on Friday.
He was invited to provide an explanation for the failure of the provincial government to effectively exploit the Gateway Airports Authority Limited (GAAL) for the benefit of the province’s six million citizens.
This week, GAAL appeared before SCOPA but could not present anything of substance because there was a new chief executive officer (CEO), according to the committee.
The committee raised concerns that the chopping and changing of GAAL board members were starting to look like a strategy to evade accountability.
“We have heard what the premier has said, but GAAL will never be an entity if every MEC appoints a new board. In the five years that we have been in SCOPA, all the time you need a new board, or you are without a chief executive officer or anyone acting in that position.
“If GAAL has to appear before the committee, you have somebody who was appointed on Monday coming to SCOPA. At every SCOPA sitting, GAAL brings in a new board,” said Mmakoma Makhurupetje, a SCOPA member.
Before Makhurupetje raised the concerns, Mathabatha had attempted to absolve himself of the GAAL mess, which the committee did not accept.
Recasting his past, the premier said he received a provincial government bursary to pursue his studies at Harvard University in the 1990s. During his time there, he chose GAAL as the subject of his case study for his Physical Identity and Access Management course.
Mathabatha mentioned that he completed the course in 1996 while serving as a manager at the Limpopo Economic Development Enterprise (LIMDEV). This was a year after the establishment of GAAL, which is responsible for overseeing all non-private airports in Limpopo, including Polokwane International Airport.
Its primary role is to develop facilities that are expected to provide ease of access to tourists visiting Limpopo.
It falls within the budget of the Provincial Department of Transport, Safety, and Security Liaison, formerly known as the Department of Roads and Transport.
Mathabatha believes that the business model endorsed by his predecessors was doomed to fail, particularly because they disregarded his professional advice.
“I went to Harvard and they gave me GAAL as our pilot project that I was going to use as my case study. I went to GAAL and got all the information and I made it my case study. Of course, I passed that course with a B+.
“The study said even after 50 years GAAL will not be self-sustainable, which means it was a bad project, a hopeless project. I came here and presented that study but the then MEC dismissed me as if I didn’t know what I went to Harvard for. Today, we are reaping the results of rejecting that professional advice,” he said.
Two years ago, Airlink had to suspend flights to Polokwane because the airport did not meet the required standards for emergency response services, specifically rescue fire-fighting services.
Consequently, the airport was downgraded and prohibited from providing any commercial services. The establishment was closed for a duration of six months.
The committee stated that GAAL was not the sole public entity facing financial difficulties. They noted a consistent trend of underperformance and violations of laws related to the management of state funds in various departments and SOEs in Limpopo, specifically in relation to annual financial statements.
Scopa expressed concern about the financial statements that were submitted for auditing, as they were not prepared in accordance with the prescribed financial reporting framework.
“This finding has been recurring in many of the departments and entities. What is the role of the Office of the Premier and the provincial treasury in ensuring that financial statements submitted for auditing were or are prepared in accordance with the prescribed legislative framework?” said Scopa member Jerry Maseko.
Nape Nchabeleng, the Director-General of the provincial government, said the Provincial Treasury is making every effort to assist the struggling departments and SOEs.
According to Nchabeleng, the Provincial Treasury uses a review mechanism to provide guidance to departments and SOEs that are at fault.
The committee expressed their bewilderment at the consistent occurrence of errors in the annual financial statements submitted by the different offices under the provincial government, deeming it inexplicable.
“The Auditor-General will tell you in writing that half of the departments and SOEs do this thing every year. We often ask ourselves how these heads of department were hired because they look like directors. The number of boards that came here left us surprised.
“Actually, one of the board members defied an MEC when the MEC pointed out that the money they are earning is against legislation, and they wrote on the spot that they have now taken a resolution that the board has noted what the MEC said,” said Rudolph Phala, another committee member.