Vuyani Jarana. Picture: SUPPLIED
Vuyani Jarana. Picture: SUPPLIED

A meeting of Parliament’s finance committee was called off on Wednesday amid heated debate despite a strong South African Airways (SAA) delegation, led by CEO Vuyani Jarana, having travelled from Johannesburg to attend it.

SAA executives and board members were due to present the airline’s financial results for the fourth quarter. Earlier in the day Business Day revealed details of the airline's turnaround strategy which envisages a near R22bn bailout by the state for the struggling airline.

Acting finance committee chairwoman Thandi Tobias decided to call off the meeting, which was initially publicised as a closed meeting but then became open to the public. She insisted that no-one could leave the venue with the documents that had been handed out and threatened to call parliamentary security if anyone refused to hand them over.

DA finance spokesperson David Maynier and deputy finance spokesperson Alf Lees disagreed with the decision to call off the meeting and to have a closed meeting. They walked out of the meeting with Lees taking the documents with him, as he did not believe they contained anything that should not be in the public domain or that was not already known.

Tobias justified her decision to call off the meeting on the grounds that she needed to consult Hansard about a finance committee last month at which a decision was allegedly taken to have a closed meeting so that SAA executives could provide finer details of the strategy, without revealing competitively sensitive information. She was supported by ANC members of the committee.

Tobias said it would take a few days for these minutes to become available so she could verify that this decision was taken; it was on the basis of these facts that she would decide whether the meeting with SAA should be open or closed. Tobias insisted that she had the power to terminate the meeting.

The DA disputed that the decision to have a closed meeting was taken by the committee as required.

Maynier said the house chairman of committees, Cedric Frolick, had given his approval for a closed meeting on May 7 on condition that this was approved by the committee. "The committee has never taken such a decision," Maynier said. He also disputed that Tobias had the power to terminate a meeting.

Lees argued that the wasteful expenditure of the SAA delegation travelling to Cape Town to attend the meeting would fall squarely on Tobias’s shoulders as she appeared to have taken the decision to terminate the meeting on her own.

Finance committee chairperson Yunus Carrim is currently on a trip to China.