Debtors keep SAA’s wings clipped

The Sunday Independent - - Politics - SIYABONGA MKHWANAZI

CASH-STRAPPED South African Air­ways (SAA) is owed more than R1 bil­lion but has so far been un­able to get it re­leased by the coun­tries that owe it.

The cash has been sit­ting in sev­eral coun­tries in Africa, but SAA and the gov­ern­ment have been strug­gling to ar­range to get the money re­leased.

For­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba said last year the gov­ern­ment was work­ing on get­ting the money re­leased. The coun­tries that owe SAA more than R1bn in­clude An­gola, Zimbabwe, Nige­ria and Sene­gal.

Gi­gaba said at the time the South African gov­ern­ment would en­gage the gov­ern­ments of those coun­tries be­cause SAA needed the money badly. Th­ese coun­tries have owed the R1bn for ticket fees for some time.

SAA cur­rently needs a cash in­jec­tion of R21.7bn to op­er­ate its busi­ness.

The Na­tional Trea­sury and the air­line said at­tempts were be­ing made to repa­tri­ate the money to South Africa. The Trea­sury said some of the money had been paid, but there was still some funds out­stand­ing.

How­ever, it de­nied that the coun­tries were re­fus­ing to cough up.

“No sin­gle coun­try has re­fused to re­lease funds. There is move­ment in terms of the re­pay­ments which the coun­tries have to make, and talks among min­is­ters and po­lit­i­cal heads are con­tin­u­ing to en­sure that there is progress.

“There is be­tween $20 mil­lion and $25m (be­tween R253m and R315m) that has been paid so far. This year alone the com­mit­ment to pay has been demon­strated through funds that have been re­ceived. We are in con­stant li­ai­son with the re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments and the mat­ter is re­ceiv­ing at­ten­tion,” the Trea­sury said.

SAA also said the mat­ter was be­ing ad­dressed by the gov­ern­ment. Spokesper­son Tlali Tlali said the air­line would like the mat­ter to be dealt speed­ily in view of the na­tional car­rier’s own fi­nan­cial si­t­u­a­tion.

“What is de­sir­able is to have the si­t­u­a­tion re­solved as ex­pe­di­tiously as pos­si­ble, not­ing SAA’s own fi­nances. We ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­forts of the share­holder in at­tend­ing to the si­t­u­a­tion in cases where we have to es­ca­late. We are just as con­scious that the re­la­tion­ship we have with th­ese coun­tries (some of which are our clos­est neigh­bours), is not solely de­fined by the cur­rent cur­rency chal­lenges they may face. We re­main op­ti­mistic that there will be a res­o­lu­tion on this,” said Tlali.

The cash crunch at SAA be­gan sev­eral years ago when it suf­fered six con­sec­u­tive losses re­sult­ing in a num­ber of in­ter­ven­tions by the gov­ern­ment. In the past six years the car­rier has posted fi­nan­cial losses of more than R20bn and the gov­ern­ment pro­vided bailouts of the same amount over that pe­riod.

SAA has asked the gov­ern­ment for R5.5bn to cover im­me­di­ate costs.

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