The Free Market Foundation (FMF) think-tank has accused State-owned regional airline SA Express (SAX) of breaking the law by not responding to a request for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The FMF made a PAIA request to SAX on May 31 regarding the troubled airline’s financial situation.
“Section 25(1) of PAIA says that the information officer of an entity must ‘as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event within 30 days’ decide whether to grant or reject the PAIA request, or seek a time extension from the requester,” pointed out FMF Legal Policy and Research Head Martin van Staden on Tuesday. “No answer was received by 19 June and the FMF tried to make direct contact. Despite numerous attempts, SAX failed to answer either their switchboard or customer care phones. We pity the poor customers who try to contact this publicly-funded airline.”
Under the PAIA, the FMF requested access to SAX’s full financial statements for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 financial years (FYs) and the management accounts for the FY ending March 31 this year. It also requested the going concern assessments by management on March 31 in each of the years 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The think-tank further requested, still under the PAIA, detailed summaries of all “payables” to related agencies, which included (but was not restricted to) Airports Company South Africa, Air Traffic Navigation Services, South African Airways, the South African Civil Aviation Authority and the South African Weather Service. Finally, the FMF additionally sought any record, whether assessments, business plans, or other records, that were used to inform the comment of SAX CEO (Ms) Siza Mzimela in January that the airline would be profitable by April, without further State support.
“Every entity must have a PAIA manual that contains request procedures and contact details,” highlighted Van Staden. “Requests sent to the SAX PAIA email address produced bounce-backs, meaning it is no longer active. SAX is showing contempt for the law.”
The FMF affirmed that it was “particularly concerned” about allegations from 2012 that the airline’s balance sheet and asset register had been overstated, fraudulently. The think-tank was now considering taking additional legal action against SAX to force it to comply with the law and the Constitution.