Minister blames leak for not finding new Prasa CEO

Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana. Picture: File
Former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana. Picture: File

Cape Town – The leak of information to the public compromised the recruitment process to find a new chief executive for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) following the firing of Lucky Montana in 2015.

“The credibility of the recruitment process was compromised,” new Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi said in a written Parliamentary response on Thursday.

Maswanganyi was asked by the Democratic Alliance why the process, which started at the beginning of 2016, was stopped and how much it cost.

The cost of the process was R1.767m, Maswanganyi revealed.

Maswanganyi said former transport minister Dipuo Peters had met with staff members of Prasa, who shared concerns that emerged when the South African Rail Commuter Corporation became Prasa in 2008.

“The consolidation process of the various passenger rail entities into a single passenger entity… did not also pay attention to cultivating a specific culture within the new organisation,” said Maswanganyi.

This, he said, resulted in the challenges now being experienced within Prasa.

“Secondly, the recruitment process for the group CEO was compromised through the leaking of information to the public,” he said.

Maswanganyi said Peters had asked Prasa chairperson Popo Molefe to consider putting the appointment process on hold in light of the above developments.

“She emphasised that organisational stability was critical and had to be reached before a new CEO can be appointed,” said Maswanganyi. “This would enable the incoming new CEO to focus on performance and gearing the organisation for delivery.”

Rocky leadership at Prasa

Leadership at the Transport Department and Prasa has been on a rocky path ever since former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Derailed report, which found evidence of widespread maladministration and impropriety in the awarding of tenders worth R2.8bn.

News24 journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh first broke the story in July 2015 that the agency ignored warnings from engineers that the locomotives were too high for local railways and could damage overhead cables.

Since then, Montana has been fired and Prasa has begun court action against Swifambo Rail Leasing relating to a R3.5bn contract. In responding court papers, Montana in March 2017 said the behaviour of the board under the leadership of Molefe can be likened to the "mafia".

Back at Prasa headquarters, acting CEO Collins Letsoalo was also relieved of his duties in 2017 by the Prasa board for hiking his own salary from R1.7m to R5.9m a year.

Then, Peters - who came to Letsoalo's support - dismantled the Prasa board, but Molefe took the matter to court and had the order reversed.

Finally, Peters herself was fired by President Jacob Zuma in his Cabinet reshuffle on 30 March. She quit as an MP last week.

In the latest twist to the story, Myburgh explained that new Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi was linked to possible financial irregularities in Madonsela’s Derailed report.

Buthelezi previously held the position of Prasa chairperson until he was replaced by Popo Molefe in 2014.

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