Ex-Prasa boss shunned legal advice, ruled with iron fist, inquiry hears

The Zondo Commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday heard testimony from Prasa's legal head Martha Ngoye, who said she had been sacked from the rail agency by ex-CEO Lucky Montana after questioning procurement processes.

Ngoye, group executive of legal risk and compliance at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, told the commission that employees including members of the executive faced dire consequences if they challenged Montana.

She said she, along with her colleague, legal adviser Fani Dingiswayo, faced Montana's wrath, and were fired by the former Prasa boss in separate meetings that lasted for less than five minutes.

This came after they questioned contracts that, according to Ngoye, were procured without following due process.

This occurred before the end of Montana's tenure in 2015, she said.  

'Martha, you are insolent'

"I had agreed to meet with Mr Montana early in the morning… our meeting did not last five minutes," she told the inquiry. As I walked into his office… he said to me in [vernacular that] 'Martha, you are insolent'.

"He said that and then he said 'you are fired'. He didn't even sit down, he was standing up," said Ngoye.

In the case of Dingiswayo, Ngoye told the commission that Montana said the former was "clearly not working" with the CEO – rather, that he was working against him, and therefore he was fired.  

The dismissal of both legal employees came after Ngoye and Dingiswayo started probing particular contracts, Ngoye said, namely a R3.5 billion contract with rail leasing company Swifambo, and a customer service training contract with Prodigy, among others. 

Prodigy is owned by businessman Roy Moodley, who has been linked to former president Jacob Zuma. Moodley has featured in testimony regarding Prasa. He also owns the security company said to have had the former president on its payroll.

The contract with Swifambo was among those that former Prasa chair Popo Molefe last week described as "corrupt".

Ngoye's told the commission that it was understood within Prasa that the prodigy contract should not be "messed with".

Nonetheless, she said, its procurement was scrutinised by Dingiswayo.

"It was a known fact within the organisation that we don't mess with the Prodigy contract. We knew of colleagues that had tried to raise their objections to the contract and how they were dealt with by Mr Montana.

"Effectively we knew that what we were doing was probably going to land us in trouble, and it's our job. We had to do it," she added.

It was shortly after this that Montana fired Dingiswayo, claiming that he had been leaking information to members of the board, Ngoye said.

Both dismissals lasted for a week. However, the staff were reinstated after approaching the CCMA, and after the board advised Montana otherwise. However, the commission heard, both had to submit letters detailing why they should not be suspended. This was later followed by a three-month suspension.

Following Molefe's testimony last week about what he described as "corrupt" contract procurement, Ngoye also told Zondo that several contracts were procured in questionable manner.  

One of these involved the procurement of an advertising contract by media company Strawberry Worx, which is owned by Moodley's son. The contract was initially awarded to Umjantshi Consortium by Intersite, a wholly owned subsidiary of Prasa, but passed to Strawberry Worx in 2012.

"Concerns were raised. I would have been one of the people that raised concerns," said Ngoye. However, she said, the contract was signed.

Other contracts that have been discussed at the inquiry, as Fin24 reported, include Swifambo, Siyangena and Siyaya. The latter resulted in a protracted legal battle.

The commission will continue on Tuesday.

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