Transnet boss digs in heels against firing
Gama defies board bid to sack him over financial irregularities
● Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama is refusing to step down from the logistics utility, arguing that the company’s board has no authority to remove him.
Instead, Gama has come out strongly against the Transnet board’s plan to fire him, giving them until the end of business hours on Tuesday to drop the idea.
This is the latest chapter in a tit-for-tat battle between Gama and the board following damaging findings against him over tender irregularities at Transnet involving billions of rands.
In a letter sent on Friday to Transnet chair Popo Molefe, President Cyril Ramaphosa and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, Gama — through lawyers — is arguing that the board is jumping the gun by asking him to explain why he should not be fired when they had not responded to his representations filed in August in response to a notice of suspension.
“The termination letter does not make any reference to the letter of suspension [or] our client’s response to the letter of suspension referred to above. The termination letter constitutes a repudiation of the letter of suspension,” reads the letter.
Gama was responding to the Transnet board letter sent to him last week in which he was asked to provide reasons why he should not be fired.
The Transnet board wants Gama removed from the utility after several investigative reports fingered him over alleged irregularities which saw the cost of procuring 1,064 locomotives ballooning from R38.6bn to more than R49bn.
The bid to remove Gama stems from an investigation by law firms Werksmans and MNS Attorneys, as well as the National Treasury, of the purchase of the locomotives from General Electric, Bombardier Transport, China South Rail and China North Rail.
The board also wants Gama to repay about R151m in overpayments to Guptalinked consultancy firm Regiments Capital.
But Gama is digging in his heels, saying the board has no power to remove him and only the cabinet can do so, through Gordhan, in terms of his employment contract.
“Our client made it clear that should the relevant authority make a decision to suspend him, he will declare a dispute in terms of his employment contract. The relevant authority is the appointing authority responsible for appointing CEs of organs of state or SOCs [state-owned companies].”
Gama also said, through his lawyers, that he intended to hold individual board members personally liable for potential legal costs as their action against him was not legally sound.
“Our instruction is to demand as we hereby do that the board withdraw the letter of termination within 48 hours after receipt of this letter, failing which our client will approach a court of law on an urgent basis and ask for costs of an attorney and client scale from each board member personally as the fiscus cannot be mulcted with costs relating to a matter where the legal position is trite.”
Gama claims he called for the investigation into the procurement of the locomotives and has been co-operating with investigators since.
“Our client was not involved with the negotiations and/or adjudication of the 1,064 locomotives and as such he could not have prevented an award or non-award of the tender,” his lawyers told Molefe.
Molefe had not responded to repeated requests for comment at the time of going to print.
Gama’s lawyers also declined to speak publicly about the matter.
But, speaking for himself, Gama said Molefe and the board were out to tarnish his “good name”.
“It is therefore my view that the board has sought to wrongly characterise me in order for them to create a negative, albeit an incorrect, narrative about me, besmirching my good name.
“I want to assure Transnet employees that all that is being said about me goes against what they know about me and therefore cannot be correct. Many of them have called me expressing their unwavering support. Your trust in me is not misplaced. On the correct platform I shall ensure that I protect my reputation and my name with everything that I have.”