Prasa’s party train

Axed Group CEO Lucky Mon­tana de­nies that any of the ac­tiv­i­ties cap­tured in these time-stamped photos re­flect re­al­ity

CityPress - - Front Page - BIÉNNE HUIS­MAN, ANDISIWE MAK­I­NANA and PI­ETER-LOUIS MY­BURGH news@city­press.co.za

These pic­tures show axed Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) Group CEO Lucky Mon­tana en­ter­tain­ing a group of women on a lux­u­ri­ous train ride as part of a Cape Town week­end get­away at a cost of R170 000 to taxpayers. Public Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela re­leased her re­port into the state rail agency, ti­tled De­railed, this week in which she gave Mon­tana “the ben­e­fit of the doubt” into al­le­ga­tions that he un­der­took an “al­leged im­proper Blue Train trip to Cape Town” be­tween Septem­ber 24 and 27 in 2009.

This week, Mon­tana told Gaut­eng ra­dio sta­tion Power FM: “I’ve said to the Public Pro­tec­tor, I have never trav­elled with these women on the Blue Train, un­less we are talk­ing a dif­fer­ent trip. But if there is an al­le­ga­tion that Lucky Mon­tana trav­elled on the Blue Train with 10 women, it’s false, and that is why I thought the Public Pro­tec­tor will dis­miss that par­tic­u­lar is­sue. In­stead, she said she’s putting it to another in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The pic­tures show that Mon­tana trav­elled on Prasa sub­sidiary Shosholoza Meyl’s Premier Classe train, not the Blue Train, which is owned by fel­low paras­tatal Transnet. Mon­tana, how­ever, also de­nies that he was on this other train.

A whis­tle-blower pre­vi­ously em­ployed by Prasa, who spoke on con­di­tion his name not be pub­lished, told City Press Mon­tana and the women’s overnight train ride came with mas­sages, six-course meals and sparkling wine. The whis­tle-blower al­leged that Mon­tana per­son­ally checked the women into the Premier Classe Train in Joburg on Thurs­day, Septem­ber 24 2009.

Premier Classe comes com­plete with gowns, bed­ding, toi­letries and phones for or­der­ing room ser­vice to your cabin. At cur­rent rates, a sin­gle adult ticket from Joburg to Cape Town costs R3 120.

“These ladies were not on the pas­sen­ger man­i­fest, mean­ing they were, in ef­fect, sneaked on to the train,” the whis­tle-blower said. “On board the train, they were pam­pered through­out. They en­joyed bub­bly and mas­sages, as well as six-course meals. Upon ar­rival in Cape Town, Mon­tana checked them out of the train him­self and booked them into a ho­tel in Camps Bay. The ladies were then flown back home from Cape Town.”

Prasa regularly in­vites “stake­hold­ers” in the tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries on trips in Premier Classe, no­tably to the Cape Town Jazz Fes­ti­val ev­ery April.

The whis­tle-blower said that, at the time, Mon­tana told staff the women were “tourism stake­hold­ers” from the Rusten­burg area.

When asked for com­ment on the train trip yesterday, Mon­tana de­nied that he “trav­elled to Cape Town with 10 fe­male com­pan­ions on ei­ther the Blue Train or the Premier Classes”.

“Kindly con­tact those who made the al­le­ga­tion of the Of­fice of the Public Pro­tec­tor to clar­ify or sub­stan­ti­ate,” he said.

Time-stamped pho­to­graphs, how­ever, show Mon­tana in­side the train with the women and dis­em­bark­ing in Cape Town. The group re­turned to Johannesburg on Sun­day, Septem­ber 27.

The pho­to­graphs show Mon­tana and some of the women at the up-mar­ket Wharf­side Grill res­tau­rant in Hout Bay. Later that evening, some of the women are pic­tured tak­ing their seats on an SAA plane.

Madon­sela’s re­port names five of the 10 women. Gwen Tha­bane from Rusten­burg con­firmed the train ride, but would not elab­o­rate on Mon­tana’s in­volve­ment. Also on board was Nosilela Karabo, also from Rusten­burg, who told City Press the out­ing had been a “girls’ break­away”. She said they met Mon­tana as they dis­em­barked in Cape Town, but de­nied spend­ing any more time with him.

“In Cape Town, Lucky greeted one of the men who was help­ing us with our bags. But if there was any­thing else, I’m in the dark,” she said.

Also on board was Dorothy Let­soalo, a per­for­mance and risk spe­cial­ist at a top min­ing firm. She did not re­spond to an in­vi­ta­tion to com­ment.

Madon­sela’s re­port states: “The ev­i­dence re­veals that the trip of Septem­ber 2009 was ar­ranged by the of­fice of the Group CEO us­ing Prasa’s of­fi­cial travel agency.”

“How­ever, the ev­i­dence ob­tained from SAA in­di­cates the trav­el­ling costs in re­spect of the per­sons re­ferred to by the com­plainant were paid for in cash.”

Madon­sela said: “I have not been pro­vided with con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence to con­clude that [the] com­plainant’s al­le­ga­tion is cor­rob­o­rated and proved.

“In the ab­sence of such ev­i­dence, I am in­clined to af­ford Mr Mon­tana the ben­e­fit of the doubt,” she con­cluded.

Yesterday, the Public Pro­tec­tor’s spokesper­son, Oupa Se­galwe, told City Press their re­port quoted the com­plainant, who ap­peared to have made the mis­take about the trip be­ing taken on the Blue Train.

Se­galwe said they hoped to “clar­ify this par­tic­u­lar is­sue in our fol­low-up re­port, set to ap­pear in six months’ time”.

Mabe in trou­ble

Mean­while, Pule Mabe, an ANC MP and ANC Youth League lead­er­ship con­tender, may face more trou­ble over his busi­ness deal­ings when Par­lia­ment’s ethics com­mit­tee con­sid­ers his case.

Madon­sela found that Mabe’s com­pany, KG Media, was “im­prop­erly” ap­pointed to pro­duce Prasa’s in-house Ham­banathi Mag­a­zine in a six-year deal worth more than R33 mil­lion, or R465 669.75 a month.

Mabe’s di­rec­tor­ship in the com­pany, whose con­tracts with Prasa were found to be un­law­ful and a fla­grant con­tra­ven­tion of a num­ber of laws, was not de­clared in the register of mem­bers’ in­ter­ests pub­lished by Par­lia­ment in Septem­ber last year. A com­pany search re­veals Mabe only re­signed his di­rec­tor­ship on May 11.

Mabe’s di­rec­tor­ship goes against the code of con­duct for MPs adopted last year, and bars MPs and their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies from do­ing busi­ness with the state.

But Mabe, who be­came an MP in May last year, only dis­closed his shares in the com­pany and not his di­rec­tor­ship, as re­quired.

Amos Ma­sondo, co-chair­per­son of the joint com­mit­tee on ethics and mem­bers’ in­ter­ests, said the com­mit­tee would study the Public Pro­tec­tor’s re­port “quite care­fully” be­fore de­cid­ing what ac­tion to take.

The com­mit­tee is sched­uled to meet be­fore the end of next week, but Ma­sondo could not say whether the Mabe mat­ter would be dis­cussed.

Moloto Mothapo, the spokesper­son for ANC chief whip Stone Sizani, told City Press Sizani would soon meet Mabe to dis­cuss “his im­pli­ca­tion” in the re­port.

Mabe did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Habla es­pañol?

Prasa’s woes are con­tin­u­ing in the af­ter­math of the de­rail­ment of an 11-car­riage Shosholoza Meyl train, which was pulled by one of their con­tro­ver­sial new Afro 4000 lo­co­mo­tives, two weeks ago.

The lo­co­mo­tives, it ap­pears, only “speak” Span­ish – a prob­lem now ham­per­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­ci­dent in the North­ern Cape by the Rail­way Safety Reg­u­la­tor.

On Fri­day, the reg­u­la­tor re­leased a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port into the in­ci­dent, which found: “[The] down­loaded data from the lo­co­mo­tive were in Span­ish.”

The Afro 4000 trains, which Rap­port re­vealed were too tall for the coun­try’s rail­way sys­tem, were made in Spain.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tors wanted to high­light that the data were in Span­ish rather than English, and were not an­a­lysed. The in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion will deal with this is­sue fur­ther,” said the Rail­way Safety Reg­u­la­tor’s Ba­balwa Mpendu. “When we con­tinue our in­quiry, we will ask why [the data] were in Span­ish.”

The reg­u­la­tor has had to rely on in­for­ma­tion other than that cap­tured by the lo­co­mo­tive’s own com­puter.

“The speed [at which the train was trav­el­ling be­fore the de­rail­ment] was not ex­tracted from the lo­co­mo­tive data log­ger, but was taken from the Cen­tralised Traf­fic Con­trol of­fice,” said Mpendu.

Sources with first-hand knowl­edge of the con­tract Prasa awarded to buy 70 lo­co­mo­tives, worth R3.5 bil­lion, from Span­ish man­u­fac­turer Voss­loh Es­pana say it is un­heard of to buy lo­co­mo­tives with com­puter sys­tems that don’t work in English.

“Even the lo­co­mo­tives we bought from Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer Mit­sui were cus­tom-pro­grammed in English,” a source told City Press’ sis­ter pa­per, Rap­port.

A lo­co­mo­tive’s data log­ger per­forms a sim­i­lar func­tion to a plane’s flight recorder, or “black box”, and cap­tures vi­tal in­for­ma­tion about the con­di­tions that may have caused an ac­ci­dent.

Another rail­way ex­pert who has worked on pre­vi­ous ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions says the data are vi­tal and could be used in court cases and other le­gal pro­ceed­ings af­ter an ac­ci­dent.

“The mo­ment you start hav­ing to trans­late the in­for­ma­tion from the source lan­guage into another lan­guage, you could po­ten­tially jeop­ar­dise the data’s in­tegrity,” said the source.

A lo­co­mo­tive’s on-board com­puter also high­lights any me­chan­i­cal prob­lems.

“Are we go­ing to teach our tech­ni­cians Span­ish, or are we go­ing to have to bring Span­ish tech­ni­cians to South Africa each time the Afro 4000s need at­ten­tion?” one Prasa source told Rap­port.

Tech­ni­cians from Voss­loh Es­pana are now in the coun­try to ad­dress me­chan­i­cal prob­lems al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced by two of the 13 Afro 4000s that have been de­liv­ered so far.

De­spite the reg­u­la­tor’s re­port, Prasa yesterday de­nied that the Afro 4000s’ com­puter sys­tems were in Span­ish.

“All com­puter pro­grammes on the Afro 4000 are in English, hence the DDU [driver dis­play unit] also dis­plays the driver in­for­ma­tion in English,” Prasa stated in an email.

“The lo­co­mo­tive data are in English. There’s there­fore no need for Prasa to make use of trans­la­tors, as our driv­ers and tech­ni­cians are con­ver­sant with the English lan­guage.”

PHOTO: ALET PRE­TO­RIUS

PARTY PLEASER Lucky Mon­tana

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