SCORPIO

A spy who works ‘diligently’ has been irregularly employed at embattled Prasa for a year

By Sikonathi Mantshantsha 23 August 2019
Caption
A charred train carriage at Cape Town train station, 28 September 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan

With a straight face, chief executive officer Nkosinathi Sishi assured the media that Prasa head of security Mandisa Mokwena had a valid employment contract. The chairman, Khanyisile Kweyama, agreed and backed him. But it was all a lie.

In May 2017, Stephen Joseph SC, told the North Gauteng High Court that his client, Mandisa Mokwena, “went about her work diligently, that’s her crime”. That was for her work as a deep-cover agent for the State Security Agency while she also worked for the South African Revenue Service. For a year now she has been working diligently, and irregularly without a contract, as the head of security at Prasa, even as she spearheads a R5-billion investment programme that has not followed any procurement processes.

Mokwena was first brought in to work as a technical adviser to Sibusiso Sithole, the sixth person to serve as the interim chief executive officer of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). She was hired at double the annual salary of the person already performing that job.

(Mokwena’s husband, Barnard Mokwena, who was Lonmin’s foremost representative during the August 2012 strikes at its Marikana mine, was also a covert agent of the State Security Agency (SSA), according to Pieter-Louis Myburgh/News24 – Ed.)

The job was offered to her on 17 September 2018. She accepted the offer that same day. But the starting date had been two weeks earlier, on September 1. This can only mean that when the job was officially offered to her, and accepted, Mokwena had already been at work in the CEO’s office for two weeks.

Mokwena’s initial employment contract was linked to end with Sithole’s contract, at the end of May 2019. Mokwena was then given an employment contract to sign after she accepted the job offer but no signed contract was ever received by Prasa. Mokwena just carried on working, as she still does, without a contract.

When her boss, Sithole, abruptly resigned on 28 February 2019, nine months into a 12-month contract, Mokwena’s employment should have been terminated as well. But it was not.

Only a month later, on 22 March, did new acting chief executive officer Nkosinathi Sishi motivate and seek the chairman’s approval to appoint Mokwena as head of security for a fixed period of three months, ending in May.

When May came to an end, Mokwena stayed on. By this time she had expanded her scope of work, picking up on other core and operational matters rather than just security. Correspondence seen by Daily Maverick shows Mokwena may have been the only executive, outside acting chief executive Sishi, to know about the planned appointment of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) as the implementing agent for Prasa’s infrastructure investment programme.

If approved by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, the project would outsource infrastructure investments worth about R5-billion to the DBSA, which is to earn management fees pencilled in at R431-million. To attempt to do this, Prasa bypassed all procurement processes as demanded by the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act.

On the day Daily Maverick sent Prasa questions about the proposed appointment of the DBSA without having put the transaction to any procurement processes, without the executive committee having considered it, and without the approval of the transport minister or National Treasury, Prasa sent a letter to Mbalula asking for approval to enter into the transaction.

In a response to Daily Maverick’s questions on 20 August, seeking comment about the proposed DBSA deal as well as the management instability at Prasa, Ayanda Allie-Paine, spokesman for the minister of transport, responded:

The ministry has received such a request and has referred it to the department of transport for processing and advise (sic) to the minister of transport.

The minister will take due advise (sic) in terms of process and content thereof from the submission to be made by the department of transport and the related compliance prescripts. However, what is clear is that Prasa needs the support in its current state and should in-source such capacity.”

The utility’s annual revenue for the year ended March 2018 was R2.5-billion. The government pays it an additional annual operating subsidy of more than R5-billion.

Early in May 2019, when Sishi was having difficulties getting the legal department to approve his letter approving the appointment of DBSA to implement the project, Mokwena came in and motivated why legal head Martha Ngoye should approve the transaction.

Responsibility for capital investments lies with Piet Sebola, the strategic asset development group executive. But Sebola seems to have been in the dark about the proposed transaction, as does the rest of the executive committee.

As head of security, Mokwena occupies a critical and strategic position within Prasa, but that role does not extend to infrastructure investments.

Asked about Mokwena’s employment status on 16 August, both Sishi and Kweyama insisted she had been hired following the utility’s processes, and that she had a valid employment contract. However, no contract existed.

Daily Maverick can today reveal that the acting head of the human capital department, Ranti Mahlabana, instructed the HR department to create a contract of employment for Mokwena only on Monday 19 August, after our inquiry the previous week. An email sent by Mahlabana’s personal assistant to the HR that evening reads:

Mr Mahlabana requests that you draft/create a contract for the above mentioned employee. And advise when it is ready for signature.”

The acting head of the human capital department, Ranti Mahlabana, instructed the HR department to create a contract of employment for Mokwena only on Monday 19 August.

However, when Daily Maverick again asked about Mokwena’s employment status, interim chief executive Sishi insisted Mokwena operated under a valid contract:

Dr Mokwena’s contract was extended prior to its expiry and remains until the advertised position has been filled.”

This turns out not only to be a deliberate lie, but also shows that a cover-up about Mokwena’s irregular employment at Prasa is underway.

Asked at the media briefing about Mokwena’s spying activities for the State Security Agency, and whether Prasa had satisfied itself she had resigned and been de-registered as a spy, chairman Kweyama admitted that she did not know. Yet she had approved her employment to the sensitive head of security position.

Mokwena herself admitted to Daily Maverick that she had not disclosed the fact of her being a spy when she joined Prasa as “there was no obligation to disclose” the information. She said this “had no bearing on the job that I was employed to do at Prasa”.

Mokwena said she was no longer in the employ of the spying agency, but would not divulge any further details, saying the law prohibits disclosure of information about the agency.

This week, Kweyama told Daily Maverick:

We have subsequently confirmed with SSA that she is not employed by and does not receive a salary or allowance from SSA.”

Be that as it may, employees at the utility see it differently. They point out that since Mokwena joined Prasa in September 2018, and following the appointment of Sibusiso Sithole as the interim chief executive, the instability that had characterised the utility for about five years escalated. Since then, no fewer than seven executives have either resigned, been suspended, placed on special leave or fired from Prasa.

The latest, Chris Mbatha, is undergoing a disciplinary hearing on charges emanating from his implication in the public protector’s report on a transaction involving Siyangena Technologies, a contractor that had won a R4.5-billion contract from Prasa in 2010.

Two other executives have been asked to resume their jobs this week. Legal head Martha Ngoye and Tiro Holele, strategy executive in the CEO’s office, were called back from special leave where they’d been placed for the past three months without being charged with any wrongdoing.

Bizarrely, their suspensions were lifted this week after Daily Maverick began asking questions about instability at the organisation. Without being charged or facing disciplinary hearings, they were found guilty of contravening the train operator’s supply chain management protocols, allegedly for an offence committed in 2012. They were slapped with written warnings valid for six months.

Asked if the increased instability at Prasa had anything to do with Mokwena’s activities as a spy, Sishi said Mokwena had nothing to do with any executive being put on disciplinary action or special leave. On why Mokwena would involve herself in matters beyond her job scope at the security unit, Sishi said in her capacity as strategic adviser to the CEO, it was within Mokwena’s area of responsibility to continue “to be involved with overall corporate governance processes and strategic interventions”.

When asked if the person responsible for this role, Sebola, was aware of the appointment of the DBSA as implementing agent for infrastructure investments, Sishi said only:

As member of group exco which approved the submission for DBSA on 13 June 2019, the matter has been properly recorded.”

Mokwena, for her part, denied she is championing the appointment of the DBSA:

My role is a strategic adviser of the group chief executive officer (GCEO) of Prasa. Suffice to submit that supporting the GCEO in my role cannot be considered as championing the appointment of DBSA as an implementing agent for Prasa’s infrastructure investment projects.” DM

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