The much-anticipated Prasa press briefing about the sacking on Thursday of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) chief executive Lucky Montana was cancelled minutes after it was supposed to start.
A full-house of print and broadcast journalists, including numerous TV camera crews had to turn away with empty notebooks after Prasa Group Strategy Office Sipho Sithole told them the briefing was cancelled.
It was decided after consultation with Transport Minister Dipuo Peters that the statement from Thursday would be sufficient, Sithole told stunned journalists.
Asked when that decision was taken, he said: “Just now”.
On Thursday the board said in a short statement to staff: “On 15 July 2015 the Board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) resolved that Mr Montana will not be required to work the remainder of his notice period, which commenced on 1 June 2015. Mr Montana’s last day of employment with the PRASA will accordingly be 15 July 2015.
“The Board is in the process of finding a suitable replacement. Until this process is finalised Mr Nathi Khena will be acting as the Group Chief Executive Officer. Mr Khena is currently Chief Operations Officer of PRASA and Acting CEO of Autopax.
“As a Board, we want to appeal to all of you to remain focused on your day to day functions and the responsibility that you have been entrusted with by the company. It is imperative that we remain professional and committed to deliver on the broader mandate of this organisation.
“The Board has called for a Press Conference on Thursday 17th of July 2015, at 11am, at Prasa House Hatfield.”
It ended the statement saying: “The Board and PRASA wish Mr Montana well in his future endeavours.”
Montana’s departure comes after weeks of intense controversy after Afrikaans newspaper Rapport published allegations that new, multibillion-rand locomotives Prasa ordered are unsuitable for local conditions. These allegations were strongly and very publicly denied by Montana.
It has further transpired that Montana has been in a battle with board chairman Popo Molefe over the last eight months and has earlier indicated that he would not seek a renewal of his employment contract when it expires in December.
To this effect the board apparently then decided to relieve him of serving out his six-month notice period.
Molefe was quoted saying that Montana was fired because he was in breach of the conditions agreed upon with the board for this notice period, including that he wouldn’t sign any tenders during this period.
Molefe was expected to shed more light on the situation during Friday’s press briefing.
Prasa is currently executing several large tenders aimed at renewing the passenger rail fleet. The biggest is the R50 billion tender for rolling stock awarded to the Gibela consortium, with international transport company Alstom as one of the lead partners.
Montana was scheduled to hold his own press briefing in Rosebank Friday at 14:00. It is not yet clear whether he will proceed with that.