Cape Town - Axed Prasa board chairperson Popo Molefe believes Transport Minister Dipuo Peters decision to fire the board is likely an attempt to protect former acting CEO Collins Letsoalo.
Following the sudden dissolution of the board, Molefe told ANN7 he was not officially informed that he was fired. However, he noted that other board members confirmed receiving letters from Peters advising them that their services have been terminated.
"We will challenge it to ensure that we defend our rights as directors, our integrity and reputation."
He said the board would like to believe that it exercised its fiduciary duties and actively worked to clamp down on corruption.
"We were dealing with these matters, the irregularities, corruption... [it] amounts to billions of rands of the taxpayers' money."
Molefe said Peters attempted in the past to stop the board from investigating corruption. "I think South Africans want to see seriousness in confronting acts of corruption in this country."
A senior government source told News24 on Wednesday it was "an absolute disaster" to dissolve the Prasa board. "The board, especially Popo Molefe, have been instrumental in exposing the mass corruption there despite all efforts to stop them."
After the board fired Letsoalo, Peters wanted a detailed report into the matter, which was submitted to the minister last week, said Molefe.
He said he expected the minister to engage the board on the report but instead she decided to fire the board.
'I am a fighter'
In an interview with eNCA, Molefe said: "I am a fighter. I have been around for a while. I am obviously disappointed because I would have expected the minister to deal differently with this matter."
He added that the board devoted a lot of energy to try to set Prasa on a path to success and to be able to provide the country with a modern and efficient rail transportation system.
The DA’s spokesperson on transport Manny de Freitas told Fin24 that he wasn’t surprised that Peters dissolved the Prasa board.
He said Peters should now make sure she appoints board members who meet the right criteria, such as having extensive knowledge of the rail industry and experience of how to turn an organisation around.
“We waste too much time on board governance issues at the expense of commuters,” De Freitas said.
'Too little, too late'
The DA supports the decision, but it is too little, too late and should not absolve Peters from accountability for the mess that the entity is in, he said.
Prasa is currently under investigation for over a billion rand in the current financial year in irregular payments.
The announcement of the dissolution of the board came at the same time that the portfolio committee on transport decided to launch an inquiry into the gross mismanagement at Prasa.
Dikeledi Magadzi, chairperson of the portfolio committee on transport, said the resolution to establish an inquiry was not taken lightly by the committee.
“It is important that Prasa works if we are to grow the economy and deliver on the mandate to get poor South Africans to work.
Magadzi said the terms of reference and composition of the inquiry will be decided at the next committee meeting.
“Although the DA welcomes the decision by the PC to launch an inquiry into the governance challenges at Prasa, the DA is suspicious of the timing of the dissolution of the board,” De Freitas said.
"This would not be the first time that Minister Peters has asserted her power unilaterally over state-owned enterprises, and we believe that this move is an attempt by the Minister to escape accountability.
"The presentations made to Parliament in the past two days has made it abundantly clear that the Minister is not innocent in the disastrous state of affairs at Prasa. The mess at Prasa needs to be resolved and that the Minister accounts for her role in the crisis."
Earlier on Wednesday, Letsoalo said he had a volatile relationship with board members. He also denied claims that he unilaterally hiked his salary by 350%.
In addition to calling the board members “disingenuous” about whether his salary package was approved, or not, Letsoalo alleged that Molefe was paid R75 000 for every board meeting he attended.
The board members claimed money for supplementary board meetings without prior approval from the executive authority and Molefe subsequently repaid R680 000. Letsoalo claimed that no board member, except Molefe, had paid back the money.