R70m bonuses 'helped SAA survive depression'

RETENTION bonuses of over R70million in one year had helped SAA to survive the depression caused by massive restructuring, Chris Smyth, the airline's acting chief executive, told MPs yesterday.

The corporation's policy of paying about 128 key personnel bonuses which would be repayable if they quit had locked in many of its most skilled staff, he said.

The policy made headlines when it emerged that former CEO Khaya Ngqula had been paid a retention bonus of R1,3million in addition to his R3,8million salary and additional performance incentives.

Ngqula repaid the retention bonus as part of the R9,3million termination package negotiated after he was accused of mismanagement and suspended.

Smyth said the turnaround programme launched after Ngqula left had delivered savings of R2,5billion, but included the retrenchment of a third of managers and one in five ordinary staff.

"It's very hard to describe the kind of fear and the kind of downcast feeling that you have when you go through this kind of restructuring," he said. Outgoing SAA chairperson Jakes Gerwel said the board had decided there should be a retention strategy and it had worked.

Introducing new chairperson Cheryl Carolus, who chaired her first meeting of the board on Monday, Gerwel said: "I think we're at a point where the airline has in fact turned around due to restructuring."