Molefe on Transnet: It’s worse than you think, but we're ready to fix it

When Transnet board chair Popo Molefe speaks of the "claws of corruption" and the "tentacles of state capture" taking hold of the state-owned freight rail company, the description of his work calls to mind images of a knight in shining armour vanquishing a dragon.

But Molefe has told Fin24 his arrival at Transnet was far from a fairytale.

For starters, he says he does not know how long it will take before the company can shake off the financial impact of state capture, or the related internal networks.

However, he says he is up to the task of getting Transnet working at optimum levels again, rooting out corrupt appointees and getting back money that was lost to the company and the country.

The former North West premier and Passenger Rail Agency chair has made an impact six months into the job. The Constitutional Court just recently affirmed the Transnet board's decision to axe former CEO Siyabonga Gama, after he was linked to a controversial locomotives tender, which saw Gupta-linked businesses scoring major kickbacks.

The hit list grows

Molefe says he could not rest at resolving the impasse with Gama. Transnet still had its work cut out in terms of cleaning up how it did business. But steering Transnet straight is the board's number one priority, he says.

"Yes, it is full steam ahead. We are resolute in executing the program of cleaning up the company ... and good governance. Transparency is also manifest in how we conduct business," says Molefe.

Molefe gave Fin24 a long list of officials that have either been dismissed or suspended over a report which highlighted their role in helping private interests and individuals plunder at Transnet. These included Gama, engineering boss Thamsanqa Jiyane; head of strategic sourcing for Transnet Freight Rail Lindiwe Mdletshe; supply chain manager Edward Thomas; and treasurer Phetolo Ramosebudi, who resigned after suspension.

"We have dealt with others, I cannot remember now," Molefe told Fin24. "We issued [the] CE of property [Thabo] Lebilo [with a suspension notice], and he came back to say he resigns. In the light of recovering money that is lost, we are claiming the money back from all of the people who we lost money to."

Pay up on your way out

Molefe told Fin24 he was not satisfied with simply dismissing errant officials out of the way. Ideally, he wants to recover the funds these officials were responsible for costing Transnet and South Africans.

"It is not enough just to go to court about this. We are trying to demonstrate to South Africans that we are trying to get their money back. With the procurement of 1 064 locomotives, which was found to be irregular and unlawful, we want to give them the opportunity to discuss the best remedial action," he says.

Regarding the procurement of the 1064 locomotives which went awry, Molefe said Transnet was looking to get back the money but keep some locomotives because South Africa needed them.

"We are asking those who have already resigned like Gary Peter and Brian Molefe to pay back the money in so far as they have caused losses. When it comes to service providers we are pursuing transaction advisors to get that back," he says.

It’s worse than you think

When asked about the extent of Transnet’s financial and governance troubles, Molefe says: "It’s very bad. It’s worse than in the public domain.

"If anyone has any doubts, know that it is bad.

"This year’s audited report is going to reflect irregularities that are bigger than what happened before and what has been reported. This is because the new board is being transparent and uncovering what was once hidden," he says.

Claws and tentacles

Molefe took a moment to discuss the damage that state capture and corruption dealt to Transnet. Bluntly, he admitted he believed it would take the length of his term to reverse the rot.

"The tentacles of state capture and the claws of corruption run deep. It is hard to say when we will have eradicated the rot.

"It is a process. I do think it will take my entire term of office to deal with these matters. We are confident, though, that when we are finished there will be systems in place and the company will perform its mandate."

Molefe has given the entire Transnet board his vote of confidence, saying every member on the board cares as much about steering the company in the right direction.

"Our board is always behind me. It’s not a board of tokens. They believe in ethical leadership. All of them are committed to changing."

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