Crisis at Wonderboom National Airport: Embezzlement, broken hangars and the missing R3m lift

A report submitted to the City of Tshwane council has revealed the shocking state of the Wonderboom National Airport, including allegations of "irregularities, maladministration and governance lapses" at the facility.

The report was compiled by the City of Tshwane's oversight committee for roads and transport, and was tabled in the City Council on October 31, 2019.

It includes allegations of embezzlement, non-compliance with international and domestic aviation standards and states that Wonderboom "is an asset in serious need of attention by an authority higher than the City".

The committee has recommended a full forensic investigation into the state of the airport. 

In its report submitted to council, the committee concluded: "The status of the airport and findings of the committee as presented herein demonstrates an urgent need for intervention and thorough investigations, to establish facts which resulted in the current state of affairs".

The airport has been besieged by problems, and lost its contract with SA Airlink in April 2018, because of "political instability in the Metro", according to the report.

A fuel provision contract with BP lapsed in December 2018 and a new fuel provision plan, approved in 2017, hasn't been implemented.

The committee found that the airport has deteriorated in the last two years especially.

The committee suspects embezzlement.

The committee discovered a host of challenges at the facility. (Supplied)

The oversight committee sets out, in devastating detail, at least 37 reasons why an urgent forensic investigation is needed. Among the committee's most egregious findings are:

  • About R8m and R5m for the construction of a hangar and training centre appears to have been "embezzled";
  • R3m was spent on the construction of a lift which never materialised;
  • R800 000 was spent for the construction of a wall "which the airport management has no clue about";
  • There is no occupational health and safety certificate for the airport;
  • A hangar which was supposed to be for maintenance and used as a depot can't be used because of bad construction.

Lost investment opportunities

The airport, operational since 1937, is supposed to open up the city to international investment markets, the report states, and "elevating (it) to international standards" has been high on the City's agenda.

"… The aviation sector still holds vast opportunities that can be explored to enhance economic growth in the city," the report states.

In short, Wonderboom could be an important source of revenue for a city which the Auditor-General in June 2018 found had liquidity issues, and which incurred irregular expenditure to the tune of R5bn in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Tshwane is currently the only capital city without a functioning international airport, the report states.

The committee battled to get access to important documentation, it told council, and previous efforts to investigate the airport's performance appear to have gone nowhere.

The City paid "an enormous amount" of R6m for a development study on Wonderboom undertaken by the University of Pretoria, which has yet to be discussed or scrutinised by the council.

The Tshwane Investigation Unit has also been investigating the airport for the last two years, but no reports have been submitted to council. 

The committee suspects embezzlement.

A full forensic investigation into the state of the airport has been recommended. (Supplied)

Management problems

Central to the problem appears to be the appointment of Professional Aviation Services (PAS), a private company that was appointed to manage the airport.

The report states that PAS was only responsible for security at the airport before being appointed to run it totally, and "this company may not have the experience to manage an airport".

Conditions of appointment as set out in November 2017 were also not adhered to, and the company's reappointment in November 2018 was not done in compliance with proper supply chain management processes.

The contract expired at the end of July 2019, and a request was made to keep PAS on a month-to-month basis for three to six months. There have been four managers at the airport since 2016.

News24 previously reported that the appointment of PAS is possibly unlawful, but the City said it had to apply for an emergency deviation of Treasury regulations for the appointment, as it could not find anyone internally.

Some of these operational issues include that the current security company used by the airport is being paid R1.1m a month. Its 75 security guards are being paid R6 200 a month, but the company is charging the municipality R13 300 per guard per month.

The oversight committee also says there is "no facility management overseeing staff, there are no supervisors or managers, it is just some office staff, fuel bay personnel and the (five) general workers".

And the airport's rescue and firefighting operations are possibly in violation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's standards.

There is also a need to investigate the "total disabled unfriendliness" of Wonderboom, to ensure that the facilities for disabled persons "is brought up to international standards," the committee concluded.

There is little security at the airport.The airport has been plagued by numerous issues. (Supplied)

At a special committee meeting of the roads and transport oversight committee meeting on October 8, concerns were raised that no one from Wonderboom was present.

The MMC for Roads and Transport, Sheila Lynn Senkubuge, was also not present "at any of the meetings", it was noted. 

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