Cape Town – Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) CEO Lucky Montana was fired with immediate effect on Wednesday, the board said in a statement on Thursday.
It comes at a time when Media24 newspaper Rapport has been reporting on Prasa's R3.5 bn tender for new diesel locomotives that allegedly did not conform to SA rail line standards.
The Prasa board said that on Wednesday it resolved that Montana will not be required to work the remainder of his notice period, which commenced on 1 June until December 2015. "Mr Montana’s last day of employment with the Prasa will accordingly be 15 July 2015," Prasa said in a statement on Thursday.
Until the Prasa board finds a "suitable replacement," Prasa chief operations officer Nathi Khena would step into the role. Khena is also acting CEO of Autopax.
"As a board, we want to appeal to all of you to remain focused on your day to day functions and the responsibility that you have been entrusted with by the company," the Prasa board said. "It is imperative that we remain professional and committed to deliver on the broader mandate of this organisation."
Prasa will hold a press conference on Friday to answer media queries.
Rapport editor Waldimar Pelser, whose newspaper got a hammering from Prasa executives over a series of exposés it had published on an alleged R51bn tender blunder, reacted immediately to the announcement.
"Rapport published our first story about Prasa and Montana on 10 May, detailing problems with Prasa’s R51bn tender for new passenger coaches," he told Fin24 via email on Thursday.
"Our subsequent reports have shown a lack of due process in the awarding of contracts on Mr Montana’s watch, and raised concerns about questionable property transactions, linking Montana to companies who benefited from Prasa contracts.
"In reaction to our reporting on the Afro 4000 locomotives, Montana aggressively defended his own and Prasa’s conduct, and insisted that Rapport was conducting a malicious campaign against him and his team.
"This was never so," he said. "We are confident that everything we reported was in the public interest and we believe that the authorities ought to pursue further investigations into how Prasa is spending tax money.”
Breaking the story on trains not suited for SA rail lines
On July 5, Rapport and Netwerk24's Pieter-Louis Myburgh broke a story that claimed that South African railways officials imported brand new locomotives from Europe worth hundreds of millions of rand despite explicit warnings that the trains are not suited for local rail lines.
"In what may be the country's largest and most expensive recent tender blunder the ... Prasa has to date received 13 new diesel locomotives that are too high for the long distance routes they were intended for," he wrote.
The 13 Afro 4000 diesel locomotives that have so far been delivered to Prasa are worth R600m and form part of a larger R3.5bn order for 70 new locomotives, Netwerk24 claimed.
Prasa hit back two days later, saying the locomotives it acquired are the best in the world, and they are suited for local tracks.
“We meet the safety standards," said Montana, who briefed reporters in Pretoria on July 6 following the report. "We have bought one of the best locomotives in the world and we are not even apologetic about that."
The following Sunday, on July 12, Rapport journalist Myburgh revealed that leaked documents show internal Transnet and Prasa concerns over locomotive height, although Prasa still insisted its trains were suited for local tracks.
"Prasa’s own engineers warned in a report that its new Afro 4000 diesel locomotives, which were bought from Spain at a cost of R600m, could come so close to overhead power lines in certain parts of the country’s poorly maintained railway lines that they could pose a significant safety hazard."