Q&A: Phale Naake deputy director of strategic procurement at National Treasury and GBTA board member

Phale Naake is the deputy director of strategic procurement at National Treasury, and a new member of the GBTA board. Travel & Meetings Buyer sat down with Naake to discuss the challenges he faces and his ambitions at GBTA.


Q: How did you get involved in GBTA?

A: The first time I heard about GBTA, I was still with the Department of Labour. I attended a GBTA session on behalf of the department to find out more about GBTA – what it stands for, what its mission is, and how we as a department could benefit. Following the transformation of National Treasury’s government travel policies, for which I was serving on two committees for National Treasury, GBTA invited National Treasury to speak at a function it was hosting in Sandton. Maureen (you can read Maureen Masuku’s profile here) suggested to GBTA that they speak to me, given my involvement with, and knowledge of, National Treasury’s transformation plan. I got approval from my department and went to speak at the function. Since then, the GBTA has seen me as a good resource when it comes to government travel and reforms, and has invited me to talk at other sessions to share government’s experience.

Early this year, I was informed that the term of office of the GBTA’s board was coming to an end and I was invited to serve as a board member.

Q: How do you plan to draw on your government experience in your role on the GBTA board?

A: For a long time GBTA has focused on corporates and not government. So by bringing me into GBTA, it is actually bringing government into its space. I am in a position to share with GBTA as to how government travel is being procured and the dynamics of government travel. Over and above that, I promote GBTA to my colleagues in government saying: here is a platform which, as government, we can share our information with, but also use to gain information from the industry. My role, being on the board from government’s side, is providing the government perspective into GBTA, but also bringing government colleagues to come and understand and be part of the association. But I am also hoping to expose suppliers in the industry, who do not do business with government, to the necessary information and knowledge they require to do business with government in the future.

Q: What are some of the challenges you are hoping to tackle in this role?

A: We want to infuse government into the association, which, as I mentioned, has focused on the corporate side. We want our industry to understand that GBTA has a role to play in travel in South Africa and, if we [corporates and government] join hands, we will be able to enhance the industry. There are serious challenges in travel for both corporates and government. So how do we deal with these challenges together? Let’s move forward on things we already agree on, and where we disagree, let’s sit down and talk. And when we agree, we can move forward, and move the industry to a new and higher level. But if we sit on opposite sides with the GBTA in the middle trying to get everyone to co-operate, it won’t work. So we’re saying: we are in this together, and GBTA is the platform where we can all come together and strive towards a common goal.

Q: How long have you been involved in procurement and travel management?

A: It is now around a year with National Treasury, but in government, for over 10 years. I’ve managed travel and travel procurement in different institutions in government for the past 11 years, including at Rural Development, Sassa, Compensation Fund, and the Department of Labour.

Q: What is your approach when it comes to travel policy, and how do you communicate that to your travellers?

A: Government institutions used to have individual travel policies, some were too tight, some too loose, some just a document to guide people. As I indicated, as National Treasury needed to come up with interventions. Some of these were to standardise the travel policy, to have one framework that will be a travel policy framework. After inviting different government institutions to submit proposals for this, we then implemented it, and communicated it, as an instruction. We told the institutions to customise their operations into the framework and then get it approved. Institutions were then mandated to implement and enforce the policy, because the Auditor General will actually audit whether or not institutions have implemented and enforced the National Travel Policy.

Q: What do you see as your greatest achievement in your work life so far?

A: I’m a person who believes in leaving a legacy. My portfolio has been fleet and travel management, dating back to when I started working for government. But when I became the deputy director at the Compensation Fund, my portfolio grew because I was also doing facilities management. I have legacy projects that I have started and completed at the Compensation Fund, including creating a secure parking area for clients; as well as removing and upgrading the entire building’s lifts, and escalators, from the ground floor to the fifth floor, which were worn out and actually declared unsafe — this entire project was run on time and on budget. But my envisaged legacy project is to get the online booking tool up and running for Treasury.

Q: If you could change one thing about the way corporate travel works, what it would it be?

A: It would be to remove the conflict between rendering the service and chasing commissions. For many suppliers in corporate travel, it is about chasing commissions or getting commissions, and that’s the biggest drive. Service is secondary. For example, if a car-rental company wants to get business they will say to agencies: “if you give me business, I will give you this [commissions]”. So they’re chasing business by paying commissions. Travel agencies are using the business that they have to demand commissions. If I could change one thing it would be to scrap the issue of overrides, commissions etc, and say let travel business be a fair, clean business.

Q: How do you relax when you’re not at work?

A: I’m actually a pastor. If I’m not with my family, I’m at work, and if I’m not at work I’m doing church stuff. To be honest the church is where I draw my strength. I serve my God and he gives me the strength to manage my family affairs and to do my work. A friend of mine asked me, “How do you manage this?” I told him, “You see it as additional work, but to me it’s not.” When I come back after church services I may take a nap. And then I wake up refreshed, ready, and on Monday I will hit work like nobody’s business. The church is my place of winding down and relaxing.

Q: Do you travel much for work, and which destination is your favourite?

A: I travel a lot for work. Maybe it’s because of the spiritual part of me, but places like Mpumalanga are my favourite. When I’m in Mpumalanga I’m more relaxed. I can move away from the busy city life, the noise and the confusion. When I am in Mpumalanga I can connect with nature. I can become quiet.

My daily life is living in hotels, being in the big cities, so to me if I take my family on a holiday to Cape Town it feels like I’m at work. But when I take them to the Kruger National Park, then I can actually breathe.