South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO 

Testimony this week puts focus on governance issues at Prasa

Former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) Popo Molefe testifies at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture on March 12, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture is a public inquiry launched by the government of Cyril Ramaphosa in August 2018 to investigate allegations of State Capture, Corruption, Fraud and other allegations in the public. (Photo: Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

When did things go wrong at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and what did the officials working at the entity do while most of the corruption took place? Did they work with the likes of Lucky Montana and his friends, or did they fight back to save the rail agency? 

Crucial first-hand testimony about the goings-on at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will be heard when two officials — Martha Ngoye and Khanyisile Kweyama — appear before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture this week.

Ngoye, who is the entity’s Group Executive of Legal Risk and Compliance, took the stand on Monday morning at the commission to give testimony on what has occurred over the past few years at the struggling rail agency. Although it is unclear what exactly her testimony will cover, Kweyama — the former interim board chairperson — is expected to testify about governance issues at the entity, including her board’s dismissal and Prasa being placed under administration by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Testimony on the agency began on Wednesday 11 March, with Tiro Holele, the Autopax CEO, and Jacob Rakgoathe, Prasa’s general manager, group compliance, both testifying about how controversial businessman Roy Moodley wielded his influence at the entity. On Thursday 12 March former board chairperson Popo Molefe testified how his relationship with CEO Lucky Montana broke down over the latter not providing the board with details of contracts, especially relating to the Swifambo locomotive saga.

On Friday, Molefe continued his testimony on his relationship with Montana, that he found it quite interesting that despite High Court rulings and a report by the public protector — Thuli Madonsela at the time — “about the corrupt activities of Mr Montana, he continued to go around with nobody really taking up those matters”.

On Friday, there were the first mentions of another controversial figure, “Doctor” Daniel Mthimkhulu — Prasa’s chief engineer, who played a key part in the infamous Swifambo deal. Mthimkhulu was found to have lied about his PhD qualification and ordered to repay R6.5 million to the entity after receiving a promotion and salary increase when he when was not qualified for the position, and for producing a fake letter from a German company in order to increase his salary.

When asked about Mthimkhulu and his role at Prasa, Molefe said, “somebody designated chief engineer at Prasa, although evidence later would show that he had [nothing] to show that would bring him near being called chief engineer at Prasa, was responsible for most of these programmes”.

“He worked really closely with Mr Makhensa (Makhensa Mabunda, a consultant who worked with Prasa on the modernisation project and on the Swifambo contract)… He’s the kind of person who would have made submissions to the group CEO; for approval on a range of these projects.”

During his testimony, Molefe stated Swifambo — which later turned out to be nothing more than a front company for Auswell Mashaba — was not qualified to take part in the procurement process needed for the purchasing of new locomotives. This was part of Prasa’s modernisation project, which would see R172-billion used over 40 years to procure new locomotives, the implementation and rolling out of signalling systems and purchasing of new trains.

Molefe spoke of the Swifambo contract, stating “that procurement process was flawed, was corrupt — let me say corrupted, but let me say that Swifambo itself, notwithstanding that it did not meet the requirements set out in the RFP (, most importantly, was for them to have a track record in rail business — either leasing or manufacturing. They did not have a record”.

As Molefe concluded his testimony, he revealed that when Lucky Montana resigned after the release of the “Derailed” report, Montana wanted to come back to Prasa, but at this stage, the relationship between the board and CEO had soured completely.

Molefe said he was invited to a meeting with former president Jacob Zuma in August 2015, where Montana and then transport minister Dipuo Peters were supposed to be present. Molefe claimed a security guard had told him that Montana and businessman Roy Moodley had left on the other side of the room he, Peters, Zuma and Montana were due to meet.

Molefe was startled by this, stating: “I was surprised that they  would have had an opportunity to see the president above a chairperson and a minister; also Montana had no standing at Prasa at that moment.”

According to Molefe, the president wanted the board to reject Montana’s resignation, stating that he was a “young man” who was qualified to run the entity. Molefe claimed at the commission that there was no conclusion to that meeting. But Molefe was surprised at the idea that Zuma was “now directly attempting to interfere in the matters of the board of Prasa”.

Molefe finished his marathon testimony on Friday afternoon. In addition to Ngoye and Kweyama testifying, Zackie Achmat from activist coalition #UniteBehind is also due to testify this week.

The inquiry resumed on Monday. DM

 

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