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I spoke out against SAA dealings & risked losing my job - Stimpel

Cynthia Stimpel has testified at the state capture commission of inquiry about the circumstances which pushed her to decide to report what was happening.

A screengrab shows SAA's former head of treasury Cynthia Stimpel at the state capture inquiry on 14 June 2019.

JOHANNESBURG - South African Airways (SAA) former group treasurer has revealed that despite knowing she might lose her job, she decided to become a whistleblower and speak out against a highly irregular financial deal within the national carrier.

Cynthia Stimpel testified at the state capture commission of inquiry about the circumstances that pushed her to decide to report what was happening.

The commission has been hearing evidence about the aviation industry with a particular focus on SAA.

Evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyer asked Stimpel what her concerns were about the national carrier approving the appointment of BNP Capital to provide financial advisory services.

“For me, it was the whole process, the way we have gone and approached we’ve taken to secure funding for SAA. We’ve diverted from the traditional and historical way of sourcing funds, we’ve added names and then brought in a transaction adviser and changed the scope of it. The fact that the treasury was not involved in this, made feel totally uncomfortable.”

Stimpel said she couldn’t keep quiet about what was happening.

“The risk was, I’d probably lose my job should I speak out and I said should I resign, it will come out later anyway and they’ll say who was that person in that position, who was the treasurer, why didn’t they do something about it? I said I had to take the risk and speak out, so on that basis, I decided I’ll become a whistleblower.”

WATCH: Cynthia Stimpel continues testimony at state capture inquiry

QUESTIONS RAISED OVER BNP CAPITAL CONTRACT

Stimpel said she blew the whistle on a questionable deal because she viewed the cost of more than R200 million as a waste of money for a company that could not afford it.

The former SAA group treasurer testified about the BNP Capital contract, which was to be paid to source a R15 billion loan.

SAA terminated its contract with BNP after threats of legal action by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which Stimpel had provided information to.

Stimpel said she was fully aware that SAA needed funds but it could not come at an unnecessary expense.

“At the same time we were paying an expensive debt and rolling it out, but it shouldn’t have cost us R225 million, and I felt it is my duty as an SAA employee, but also as a South African citizen, to be mindful of not wasting money,” she said.

She reported the transaction to National Treasury, the Public Protector and Outa. It was only Outa that responded, and its actions led to the contract with BNP Capital being terminated.

SUSPENSION

Stimpel accepted a settlement offer after being suspended for nearly a year.

She described how she was effectively forced out of her job after being suspended for blowing the whistle on the questionable BNP Capital deal.

She said she was suspended by then SAA group chief financial officer Phumeza Nhantsi and managed to have her case referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

“After dates were set for the CCMA hearing and every time we came to the CCMA, it (date) was moved or postponed by SAA. In September it was moved to October to November, there was nothing in December, and in January it was moved to February and then moved again to March,” Stimpel said.

Stimpel said she eventually decided to settle and left the company, but she was called back last year to assist in a matter.

“I was called in and asked if I could please come and be a witness and testify on behalf of SAA, this time against Ms Nhantsi.”

Nhantsi was found guilty of gross misconduct and fired.

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