HELP­ING THIEVES FLY HIGH

Financial Mail - - BETWEEN THE CHAINS - @Sikonathim mantshantshas@fm.co.za

Pic­tures and videos are do­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia of some at­ten­tion-seek­ers ei­ther wash­ing their hands with ex­pen­sive whisky or cut­ting up ban­knotes and throw­ing them away. Ap­par­ently, this shows ad­mir­ing on­look­ers how rich the per­son is. (In the Western Cape at this point, it would per­haps be for­giv­able to wash with whisky since there is not much water.)

It is al­ways easy to no­tice the clever fool who has re­cently come into money. Easy money, which must be flaunted for all to see. So the cash must shout out loud, thus buy­ing at­ten­tion for its grin­ning owner. Yet those who are re­ally wealthy and know the value of money also know to be dis­creet about it.

But how many peo­ple have thought of SAA as the state equiv­a­lent of the at­ten­tion-seeker who will make sure to be seen wast­ing money? The na­tional car­rier’s only pur­pose is to waste scarce re­sources, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a re­li­able con­duit of un­earned riches for the con­nected few.

In the 10 years since 2007, SAA has rung up a cu­mu­la­tive net loss of R18.1bn. Yes. R18,097,000,000. All wasted in the name of gov­ern­ment own­ing an air­line com­pany. This fig­ure ex­cludes the lat­est fi­nan­cial re­ports for the year ended March 2018, but it in­cludes the R5.67bn that SAA lost in the year ended March 2017. In that pe­riod SAA has only ever re­ported a net an­nual profit three times. That to­talled R1.29bn (and is in­cluded in the to­tal R18.1bn net loss).

The losses came out of to­tal rev­enue of R267bn. Let’s recap: the wor­thies who have been tasked by gov­ern­ment with man­ag­ing the na­tional car­rier since fi­nan­cial 2007 went to work, and han­dled R267bn in the process, and lost it all. These are fig­ures I have gleaned from the au­dited fi­nan­cial state­ments of the com­pany in the pe­riod.

In ad­di­tion, gov­ern­ment has over the past 23 years given more than R55bn in cash to SAA. This is money that is al­ways mis­tak­enly called “re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion” or “eq­uity in­jec­tion”. But it should be called ex­actly what it re­ally is: waste.

Much like the clever fool try­ing to im­press and gain the ad­mi­ra­tion of spec­ta­tors by pub­licly wast­ing the lit­tle he has, gov­ern­ment jus­ti­fies this huge waste on SAA and other state-owned com­pa­nies by say­ing the flag car­rier is nec­es­sary to mar­ket the coun­try.

Hol­low pre­text that doesn’t fly

Ap­par­ently, keep­ing this waste of re­sources air­borne also helps fa­cil­i­tate travel and thus fa­cil­i­tates trade. Ex­cept noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. The pri­vately owned and com­mer­cially op­er­ated British Air­ways is do­ing a much bet­ter job of bring­ing tourists and busi­ness peo­ple into SA.

The truth about keep­ing SAA in busi­ness is sim­ply that it presents a great op­por­tu­nity for well-con­nected thieves to get rich at the ex­pense of the rest of the peo­ple. Of course it also keeps a few thou­sand other com­rades em­ployed, in ex­change for their votes.

This wastage di­verts re­sources from gov­ern­ment’s mis­sion to pro­vide in­fra­struc­ture to cre­ate a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for real busi­nesses to in­vest. The most im­por­tant task of gov­ern­ment — to pro­vide much­needed re­sources for the vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety — is also sac­ri­ficed in favour of sub­si­dis­ing air travel for the rich.

This also takes care of free­bies for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and politi­cians.

Thus they can, with full stomachs, tell the par­ents of lit­tle Michael Komape, who died af­ter drown­ing in a pit la­trine in Lim­popo, that there is no money to build such ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture as toi­lets for his school.

And then, be­fore any­one can re­spond, off they speed on their Ger­man wheels, paid for by what has not yet been stolen at SAA.

The na­tional car­rier’s only pur­pose is to waste re­sources, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a con­duit of riches

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