More Transnet troubles

Senior managers are to call for the entire board to step down after Ramos is accused of victimising Gama. Mmanaledi Mataboge reports

A confidential dossier drafted by a group of senior Transnet and Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) employees accuses former Transnet boss Maria Ramos of trying to block the now suspended TFR chief executive, Siyabonga Gama, from succeeding her.

Senior managers who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said they would call for the entire board of Transnet to step down.

The dossier was submitted to the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, Vytjie Mentoor, the Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League, among others.

The M&G is in possession of the dossier, which accuses Ramos of “victimising” Gama. It says that when allegations against Gama concerning irregularities with two procurement contracts came to her attention in October last year, she dismissed them as “baseless” and “utter rubbish”.

But at her last Transnet board meeting—when a decision about her successor was about to be made—she surprisingly raised the same allegations, the dossier says.

“Judging by the flip-flopping of the former group chief executive [Ramos] on the charges against Gama, there is a clear victimisation attempt,” it reads.

Sources sympathetic to Transnet told the M&G in September that Ramos presented a draft report on Gama to the board at the last meeting because she had received it only on the eve of the meeting.

Gama’s court application to overturn his suspension, in which he made similar allegations against Transnet’s acting group chief executive, Chris Wells, was dismissed in October.
Wells was the group chief financial officer during the Ramos era. Ramos is now Absa’s group chief executive officer.

Transnet lawyer Paul Pretorius said in an answering affidavit at that time that the counter-allegations against Wells might require investigation, but that they would not render Wells liable to the same charges as those brought against Gama. Judge Brian Spilg dismissed Gama’s urgent application with costs. Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu said the allegations were “vexatious and unfounded.” Adding “We reject any insinuations of impropriety in relation to the conduct of the board’s current and former members.”

Gama was suspended two months ago. Disciplinary action against him is being handled by Wells.

Gama is accused of allocating a contract to refurbish 50 locomotives to Sibanye Trade & Services, which allegedly had little experience of renovating locomotives.

He is also accused of awarding a R19-million contract to General Nyanda Security Risk Advisory Services (GNS), a security firm linked to Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda. Gama had authority to approve contracts to a maximum of R10-million.

The document accuses the Trans-net board under the chairmanship of Fred Phaswana of failing to take action against Ramos for bringing allegations against Gama to the board’s attention months after she knew about them.

“An inference might be made that she did not view them in a serious light as she then claimed, unless she had other ulterior motives, after she saw that Gama was in the race as her successor,” the dossier says.

Phaswana has since left Transnet to take up a position as chairperson of the Standard Bank group.

The M&G has learned that the Transnet succession plan that would have seen Gama succeed Ramos began polarising staff at the parastatal from as early as February 2008. The confidential dossier charges that it was around that time that efforts to thwart the possibility of Gama taking over began.

The M&G has seen letters between Transnet employees suggesting the severe tensions sparked by the succession plan. Some white employees wrote of their fear that they would be removed from their positions and replaced by their black colleagues.

The dossier from black senior employees concludes that Gama was seen as a threat to white colleagues. “[He] has proven to possess leadership qualities that have threatened some white colleagues who may have had ambitions to occupy the highest office within the Transnet group.”

In July, just after Wells told Gama of the board’s intention to charge him, Gama wrote to Wells saying that it was puzzling he was being investigated for allegations Ramos dismissed.

“When the anonymous tip-off was received, I had the opportunity to discuss its contents with the then group chief executive, Ms Maria Ramos, who dismissed them as baseless and utter rubbish,” he wrote. “I am amazed that subsequent to that discussion [there] emerged an investigation that I was not informed of.”

The black employees’ dossier accuses Wells of full knowledge of and participation in the procurement process and says he tried to force United States company Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) to drop its black economic empowerment partner, Sibanye.

“Wells was a key participant in actioning the way forward on the 50 like-new [locomotives project] and mainly took decisions that further exposed Transnet and brought it into disrepute about its view of the participation of the BEE partners in this economy,” it says.

“What actions has the board taken against Wells for his part?” the dossier asks.

It details a sequence of events relating to the 50 like-new locomotives contract, which indicates that Wells was well aware of the procurement processes followed and any subsequent variations to the process. Wells refused to comment on the matter, saying through his spokesperson John Dludlu: “There’s a formal process under way and we’d like to await its outcome.”

In September Randall Howard, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu), which represents most of Transnet’s employees, accused Ramos of being part of a conspiracy to prevent Gama’s appointment as the new head of Transnet.

Ramos refused to respond to M&G questions, saying through her spokesperson, Patrick Wadula, that she was no longer a Transnet employee and cannot comment on matters related to the transport utility.

Transnet response
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond to the claims.

All your questions were included in the allegations which formed part of the founding affidavit filed by Mr Gama. Both the application and the subsequent leave to appeal were dismissed with costs by the South Gauteng High Court. Consequently, the allegations are vexatious and unfounded and therefore rejected. These include the aspersion cast on Mr Wells, the acting group chief executive, who has always acted in the interest of the company, fulfilling with his fiduciary duties as a director of the company. We reject any insinuation of impropriety in relation to the conduct of the board’s current and former members. Given the need to ensure the integrity of the current disciplinary process in relation to the suspended chief executive of TFR it would be inappropriate to comment further. That said, the company reserves all its rights.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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