The’dis’missal led to a fe­ro­cious public war of words be­tween Mon­tana and board chair Popo Molefe

CityPress - - News - ABRAM MASHEGO abram.mashego@city­press.co.za

The bat­tle for con­trol of the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is set to in­ten­sify this week as na­tional gov­ern­ment en­ters the fray. Prasa board mem­bers were this week­end due to meet se­nior gov­ern­ment min­is­ters to give them “an un­der­stand­ing” of why they had fired Lucky Mon­tana as CEO this week. City Press un­der­stands that there is a “lot of anger” in Cab­i­net cir­cles about the sum­mary dis­missal of Mon­tana by the Prasa board.

The board an­nounced that Mon­tana would not be re­quired to ser­vice the re­main­der of his six-month no­tice pe­riod – a dis­missal with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

But there is now a strong push within gov­ern­ment for Mon­tana to be re­in­stated, which may re­sult in the Prasa board chair leav­ing in­stead.

The dis­missal led to a fe­ro­cious public war of words be­tween Mon­tana and board chair Popo Molefe, with Mon­tana warn­ing Molefe that he “may have won the bat­tle, but not the war”.

Rea­sons for Mon­tana’s dis­missal were sched­uled to be pro­vided on Thurs­day, but the board can­celled the press con­fer­ence at the 11th hour af­ter gov­ern­ment or­dered it to do so. Ac­cord­ing to well-placed sources, Cab­i­net, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, felt the board should have taken them into its con­fi­dence be­fore go­ing public and es­ca­lat­ing the con­flict.

Although he holds no for­mal po­si­tion in the move­ment, Mon­tana is an in­flu­en­tial be­hind-the-scenes player in ANC cir­cles and his ac­cess goes to the high­est lev­els. He has been ac­cused of us­ing this clout to push his ex­ec­u­tives and even board mem­bers around.

Those sym­pa­thetic to Mon­tana felt he was given a raw deal by Molefe’s board, as well as Trans­port Min­is­ter Dipuo Peters, who im­me­di­ately ac­cepted the board’s de­ci­sion.

“You do not treat some­one like him like that. He has done so much for public trans­port in this coun­try. There is no one who knows more about rail in South Africa than him. That is why a proper ex­pla­na­tion is needed,” said a se­nior gov­ern­ment fig­ure.

Ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers, there was a strong push from “high up” for Mon­tana’s re­in­state­ment, and this week could see Peters square up against some Cab­i­net col­leagues be­cause she is firmly on the side of Molefe and the board.

“Don’t be shocked if you see Mon­tana back in his seat and Molefe out the door,” said a po­lit­i­cal in­sider.

How­ever, the source cau­tioned, this could re­sult in the col­lapse of the board, some­thing gov­ern­ment did not want hap­pen­ing at yet another state-owned en­tity.

Mon­tana has been em­broiled in con­tro­versy in re­cent weeks as re­ports in City Press and sis­ter pa­per Rap­port re­vealed Prasa had bought 13 new trains at a cost of R600 mil­lion that are too tall for our rail­way lines.

Po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers said that be­cause of its large pro­cure­ment bud­get, Prasa had, like other paras­tatals, be­come con­tested ter­rain for con­nected in­di­vid­u­als want­ing a piece of the pie. “That is how you must see the bat­tle at the board,” said one. Mean­while, de­tails have emerged of the dra­matic meet­ing on Wed­nes­day night, which nearly ended in fisticuffs be­tween Mon­tana and Molefe. Sources told City Press that ten­sion was pal­pa­ble as Mon­tana and Molefe sat di­rectly across from each other at the board­room ta­ble.

The meet­ing was sched­uled to dis­cuss the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of Prasa’s sus­pended head engi­neer, Daniel Mthimkhulu, the han­dling of com­mu­ni­ca­tions of the train scan­dal and Public Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela’s pro­vi­sional find­ings against Prasa.

The board also wanted an­swers on an al­leged “breach of agree­ment”, in which Mon­tana signed off on a ten­der de­spite hav­ing agreed not to do so. Af­ter be­ing grilled on these and other is­sues, Mon­tana in­creas­ingly be­came ag­i­tated and a scream­ing match en­sued be­tween him and Molefe. Mon­tana told Molefe that he knew “he did not like him” and ac­cused him of breach­ing gov­er­nance rules by meet­ing with Prasa sup­pli­ers with­out his knowl­edge.

“You chose to win the bat­tle, but you are go­ing to lose the war,” Mon­tana al­legedly told Molefe while point­ing a fin­ger at him. He later re­peated this line pub­licly.

Molefe took um­brage at Mon­tana’s tone and ac­cu­sa­tions and shouted back at Mon­tana, ac­cus­ing him of “dis­re­spect­ing the board”.

The two re­port­edly nearly came to blows, but other board mem­bers in­ter­vened and calmed them down.

Mon­tana, who had warned at the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing that his un­cle was on his death bed in hos­pi­tal, had to leave abruptly when a text mes­sage came through that his un­cle had died.

Af­ter Mon­tana left, the board de­cided over­whelm­ingly to get rid of him. When he ar­rived home from hos­pi­tal, he found his dis­missal let­ter wait­ing for him. “That was very cruel,” a Mon­tana sym­pa­thiser said. Nei­ther Mon­tana nor Molefe could not be reached for com­ment. Prasa spokesper­son Sipho Sithole re­fused to com­ment on the de­tails of the board meet­ing.

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