My interactions with US supplier were above board, says ex-SAAT procurement head

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Nontsasa Memela, the former procurement head of SAAT, during the Zondo Commission of Inquiry. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg – The former head of procurement at South African Airways Technical (SAAT) told the Zondo commission that it was not her job to advise against the board visiting the headquarters of a company that was bidding for a tender with the SOE. 

Nontsasa Memela took the stand for a third day at the commission on Tuesday. SAAT forms part of South African Airways and deals with the maintenance of the airlines aircraft. 

Memela faced tough questions on whether it was ethical for the SAAT board to visit the headquarters of US-based aviation company, AAR Corporation, in May 2015. 

At the time of the trip, SAAT had advertised a tender to procure components and AAR was one of several companies that had bidded for the R1bn tender. 

In May 2015, the tender process was still open as it had been issued late in 2014. 

The inquiry heard last week that Memela along with other board members were invited to visit AAR’s Chicago and Miami offices. The visit took place from May 4-9th. 

Advocate Kate Hofmyer, the evidence leader for the commission, questioned Memela on her thoughts on the trip and whether the rules of SAAT and tenders had allowed for the company to interact with bidders while the tender process was still open. 

“I am not the advisor of the board. The decision to go to the AAR was taken by SAA and then moved to SAAT board. There was a partnership framework that was talked about at SAAT since 2012. They were going to discuss that. I was only informed on the day that we were going on the trip. Their reasoning for including me on the trip was to make sure that AAR doesn’t talk about anything outside of the partnership framework,” Memela said. 

Memela said the trip was meant to be part of SAAT’s strategy to form a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with various companies. She said SAAT had done the same with companies such as Air France, although she admits that as procurement head, she went on that trip while board members did not. 

The commission’s chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, pressed her on whether she, as the head of procurement maintained, that there was nothing wrong with board members interacting with suppliers. 

Memela maintained there was nothing wrong with the arrangement as long as the topic of discussion was limited to the MOU. 

“If the board was going there to discuss something that has nothing to do with tender then there would be nothing unacceptable about that,” she said. 

Zondo: “You were the head of the procurement, I would expect that you had a responsibility to alert the members of the board to say this would taint your decision afterwards. I would expect that would be part of your responsibility?” 

Memela: “Advising them would not have stopped them from going. I do not sit in board meetings other than through invites so to be expected to advise the board in meetings I do not sit in is something I do not understand.”

After SAAT board members travelled to the US in May 2015 the five year-components tender was cancelled. 

The SAAT board had decided to discuss an MOU with AAR. That MOU included similar components that were included in the components tender. 

Last week, the commission heard how AAR was eventually awarded five-year components tender with SAAT. 

Political Bureau