Axed Prasa CEO Lucky Montana has conceded to government’s wishes that he holds off on speaking to the media, but says he is “deeply hurt” by his removal.
Montana called a press briefing in Johannesburg on Friday afternoon to explain his side of the story, but said he received “frantic phone calls” and was asked not to speak out until government had had a chance to reflect on what happened.
“I am not cancelling, but postponing [the briefing],” he told reporters.
Earlier on Friday, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) cancelled its press briefing in Pretoria, saying that after further consultation with Transport Minister Dipuo Peters and the board, it was decided that the statement issued on Thursday was sufficient.
Despite not giving details of his dismissal, Montana said he believed it was unfair and unlawful.
“I am disappointed, but it is not unexpected,” he told reporters.
“[But] something grossly unjust and unfair has happened.”
Montana said the decision to fire him was taken by the board in his absence. He had to leave the board meeting on Wednesday because his uncle had died.
Montana took the opportunity on Friday to thank his family.
He said his family had been going through a lot “because of the humiliation”.
Montana said he was hoping to address the media next week and answer questions.
On Thursday, Prasa’s board said in a statement that Montana had been fired with immediate effect on Wednesday.
Prasa has faced questions over the purchase of new diesel locomotives from Spain, and over a R51bn tender for the purchase of 600 trains for its fleet renewal programme.
The agency had reportedly ignored warnings from engineers that the 13 Afro 4000 locomotives, imported from Spain for R600m, were too high for local railways and could damage overhead cables.
On July 6, Montana and Prasa’s chief engineer Daniel Mthimkhulu denied this.
“We meet the safety standards,” Montana said.
“We have bought one of the best locomotives in the world and we are not even apologetic about that.”
Prasa was buying 20 diesel Afro 4000 locomotives, plus another 50 hybrid ones, for a total of R3.5bn.
The Prasa board said that on Wednesday it has resolved that Montana would not have to work the remainder of his notice period, which started on June 1, until December.
Until the board had found a suitable replacement, Prasa chief operations officer and Autopax acting CEO Nathi Khena would step into the role.
“As a board, we want to appeal to all of you (employees) 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 said.