Concerns raised over irregular appointment & contracts at SA ATNS
JOHANNESBURG – Questions have been raised about integrity and the safety of aircraft crossing South Africa’s skies after allegations that the air traffic and navigation services irregularly appointed two men with links to intelligence networks and former president Jacob Zuma.
Amabhungane has revealed that ATNS CEO Thabani Mthiyane appointed one company in 2016 called Concept Risk Solutions and then another firm, African Estimate, but failed to disclose his relationship with two men linked to these organisations and their association to Zuma.
ATNS covers 10% of the globe's airspace and the turmoil revealed raises serious questions about the efficacy of the agency responsible for the safety of any aircraft crossing South African skies.
Amabhungane has revealed the saga started in 2016 when Mthiyane appointed a security company, whose director Barney Mpanza, was a close friend.
He also added another company to the books, African Estimate, who's director Mulangi Mphego, is also an acquaintance.
Both Mpanza and Mphego have been linked to dodgy intelligence networks and to Zuma.
Mpanza and his company had access to sensitive flight records and air traffic data.
When the ATNS board discovered the irregular appointments and tried to discipline Mthiyane, they faced unexplained resistance from the deputy minister of transport, Sindiswe Chikunga, who allegedly did everything she could to derail the disciplinary process.
Both Mpanza and Mphego have featured in amaBhungane articles linking them to shadowy intelligence networks and former president Zuma.
Mthiyane contracted Mpanza and Mphego in violation of supply chain rules and later defied his managers and his board to keep Mpanza on, leading to an exodus of directors and senior managers that has left the air traffic agency reeling.
ATNS covers 10% of the globe’s airspace and provides services to nine South African and 12 regional airports.
Astonishingly, when the ATNS board discovered the irregular appointments and tried to discipline Mthiyane, the non-executive directors faced unexplained resistance from the deputy minister of transport, Sindiswe Chikunga, to whom ATNS reports.
Chikunga demanded that the board not take any action without her approval, despite a forensic report from audit firm Ngubane & Co. finding that Mthinaye should be charged – a recommendation later endorsed by an outside law firm.
Shortly after Chikunga's intervention, the chair of the board resigned.
When the deputy minister feared the board might indeed proceed with suspending and charging the chief executive, Chikunga summoned her supporter on the board, Edwin Mphahlele, out of a board meeting to a private meeting with her.
Mphahlele, a controversial lawyer who has been declared a vexatious litigant arising out of his role in the attempted hijacking of a company, refused to disclose to the rest of the board what was discussed in his meeting with the deputy minister.
When the board later persisted in pursuing charges against Mthiyane, the then minister, Joe Maswanganyi, appointed Mphahlele as the chair of the board, leading to the resignation of four board members in protest.
Now the ATNS board is limping along with only three directors, including the tainted chair and chief executive, while a slew of senior managers who challenged Mthiyane or Mphahlele have left or are on suspension, including the chief financial officer, William Ndlovu.
Mthiyane in the meantime has apparently appointed Mpanza as a full-time executive at the company in charge of security, raising questions about why Mpanza seems so untouchable.
Recently lawyers for Ndlovu, the suspended CFO, have also written to the new minister of transport, Blade Nzimande, alleging that Mthiyane has used Mpanza to conduct an illegal witch-hunt against him, calling on the minister to intervene.
A statement issued on behalf of Chikunga noted: “The Deputy Minister is due to brief the new Minister on the performance of the ATNS and other related matters. We are therefore not in a position to comment further on this matter. It must also be noted that some of the issues raised in your inquiry are still under investigations. We are therefore not at liberty to comment on these issues.”
ATNS, responding on behalf of the company, the CEO and the chair, said: “ATNS is committed to conducting its business in an ethical, honest and transparent manner... We will follow the mechanisms created in terms of our internal policies to address the findings made in the Ngubane Report.”
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