The former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) Popo Molefe on Monday told the commission of inquiry into state capture that he was of the view that the board he chaired was dissolved because it was “stubborn” and had continued with an investigation it had been instructed to bring to an end.
The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo heard on Monday that the former minister of transport, Dipuo Peters, had written to Molefe suggesting that an investigation the board had instituted should be halted because it had taken a long time, was costly and irregular.
The letter is dated 12 August 2016, Zondo heard, and in the letter, Peters had instructed the board to conclude the investigation by the end of August that year and that a detailed report should be furnished to her, the commission heard.
Molefe said he responded to the minister in a letter dated 24 August 2016, in essence telling that though the board appreciated her concerns, and it was of the view that the investigation should continue.
Molefe also told the commission that he had indicated to Peters that a new Prasa CEO should be appointed to ensure stability at the entity, however, the former minister was of the view that it was not time to do so.
Molefe said he was of the view that the appointment of a CEO was put on hold so Lucky Montana could be reappointed to the position.
Molefe told the commission that the board regularly reported to the former minister on a range of sensitive issues and so expected that she, in turn, reported to the cabinet, which would mean government was aware of the seriousness of the level corruption at Prasa.
The former minister dissolved the board 8 March 2017, the commission heard.
Peters had sent an acting director-general at the department of transport to a portfolio committee meeting where the board was scheduled to appear, to announce the dissolution, the commission heard.
On the same day, board members received letters informing them of their dismissal, the commission heard.
Molefe said this prompted him to write to the speaker of parliament and the chair of the committee, and that he had requested the former to launch an inquiry.
Zondo said it was strange that board members and Molefe were not notified about their dismissal before the committee meeting.
Molefe said he could not understand Peters’ decision to dissolve the board and not notify them of this before the committee meeting.
He said he was of the view that “it all centres around the investigation” and that the board was perceived as being stubborn and proceeded with the investigation.
Molefe said at the time, some members of the committee were also calling for the dissolution of the board.
“So, I think the minister reached the point where she had to pander to this thing,” he said.
“That investigation had begun to shake the tree,” he said, adding that this made many uncomfortable and so made him wonder whether they themselves were not beneficiaries in one way of the other of the corruption at Prasa.
Molefe it seemed to him that the board’s dismissal had been planned and had been “discussed elsewhere” and was made public to embarrass its members.
The board was scheduled to appear before the committee to account for its work of the preceding year and this account would have involved speaking about the “rampant corruption” that had been uncovered, subsequent litigation processes that were underway and how the police had refused to investigate even though evidence had been presented.
“They would have not loved that to happened,” Molefe said of those who had called for the board’s dissolution, adding: “All of those things may we have been things that made people restless at that time.”