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Why Mbalula fired Prasa board

Minister ‘wanted his preferred candidate appointed CEO’

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula’s decision to dissolve the Prasa interim board and put the passenger rail entity under administration allegedly came after the board refused to appoint Bongisizwe Mpondo, the current administrator, as CEO.

Details have emerged indicating the minister and his political adviser, Bo Mbindwane, had been pu­ing pressure on the interim board and its chair, Khanyisile Kweyama, lobbying for the appointment of their preferred candidate Mpondo as CEO.

When this failed, the board was dissolved and Mpondo brought in as an administrator – giving him wide-ranging powers over Prasa.

According to sources in Mbalula’s department, and the interim board the drama started after Prasa could not find a suitable candidate for
CEO following an interview process and was considering head-hunting.

Highly placed sources in the Department of Transport and the interim board revealed that in his first meeting with the former interim board chair in Cape Town, Mbalula had asked Kweyama about the delay in the appointment of Mpondo as CEO of Prasa.

“The thing is Mbalula has always wanted Mpondo at Prasa for whatever reason,” said the source.

The meeting is said to have been preceded by one in Pretoria, where Mbalula allegedly raised the same issues about the appointment of Mpondo, but was not happy with a lack of progress in the appointment.

The two meetings, according to the sources privy to these details, came after Mbindwane sent Mpondo’s CV allegedly stating that Kweyama should consider him for the position of CEO as this was the minister’s preferred candidate.

The sources revealed that the CV was sent to Kweyama via e-mail and WhatsApp.

Mbindwane later created a WhatsApp group and added Kweyama and Mpondo. He allegedly advised them to use the platform to talk about the position of the CEO.

These details were confirmed by one of the members of the interim board, who said Mbindwane had said the two were free to take the discussions off the WhatsApp group if they were not comfortable with the platform.

Approached for comment, Kweyama could neither confirm nor deny the allegations of interference.

“I am not prepared to comment,” Kweyama said.

Another source said Kweyama did not heed Mbalula and his adviser’s call – insisting on due process and fair contest for the position.

She was later told the minister wanted to dissolve the board and put Prasa under administration.

The same source revealed that the board chair was later offered a deal to appoint Mpondo in exchange for the minister
saving the board.

Insiders said the board members were not interested in Mbalula’s alleged offer, and they instead sent him several lett­ers after he communicated his intentions to officially dissolve the board.

Sunday World sources also said they were shocked by the minister’s decision to dissolve the board, stating that during the last board meeting att­ended by Mbalula at the end of October last year, the minister praised the interim board stating that they were doing a great job.

“The next thing there was a sudden change of heart, and they were told he wanted to dissolve them,” said the source.

One of the board members revealed it became clear to them that their sin was their refusal to appoint Mpondo as EO.

This is also contrary to what Mbalula revealed during his press conference in December last year.

At the briefing, Mbalula cited auditor-general reports on the performance of Prasa for the year 2019, especially its regression from qualified audit opinion to disclaimer, as one of the reasons behind his decision to dissolve the board.

Interestingly, he also said that he would only announce the appointment of a permanent board after 12 months.

Mbindwane confirmed he had sent Mpondo’s and four other CVs to Kweyama for the post of CEO, but said this happened only aer Prasa’s decision to head-hunt for the position.

“The pressure assertion is a lie and a total fabrication, seemingly a fight-back campaign by those found wanting in Minister Mbalula’s strong, decisive action in protecting Prasa, as per presidential directive. I know it’s painful to lose a job, even embarrassing if it’s due to
lack of performance and slacking in application of their fiduciary duties…” he said.

Mbindwane also confirmed creating a WhatsApp group that included Mpondo and Kweyama, but said this was for interview arrangements requested by the board chair.

He said the board failed to appoint the CEO within three months but denied imposing Mpondo on the board.

By Aubrey Mothombeni
mothombenia@sundayworld.co.za