Gordhan: I wasn't being racist when I fired Transnet director
Minister says Seth Radebe’s actions – or perhaps rather inaction – amounted to 'dereliction' and were 'indefensible'
In a blistering attack, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has spelled out the reasons for firing Transnet director Seth Radebe, saying he plainly ignored evidence of state capture that cost the parastatal billions of rands.
In court documents seen by Times Select, Gordhan says Radebe’s actions – or perhaps rather inaction – amounted to “dereliction” and were “indefensible”.
The minister also rejects Radebe’s accusations that he was racist in his decision to keep Lana Kinley – who has since resigned – on the Transnet board, while he fired Radebe.
“The overtures of [Radebe] are racist, unkind and unfair in concluding I was racist in retaining her. Race had nothing to do with this,” Gordhan states in court documents.
He axed Radebe because of his failure to take action in response to an investigation into Transnet’s dodgy procurement of 1,064 diesel and electric locomotives from four original equipment manufacturers.Gordhan says evidence contained in a December 2017 report by Werksmans attorneys made it clear there were grounds for further investigation of several former and current Transnet officials in relation to the 1,064 locomotives deals. These included Siyabonga Gama, Brian Molefe and Tamsanqa Jiyane, as well as “the entire board appointed during the period 2013 and 2014”.
The GuptaLeaks e-mails contain claims that Gupta-linked companies received multi-billion-rand kickbacks as part of that R50-billion locomotive acquisition.
“Not a single employee of Transnet was to be suspended, investigated, reported or even informally questioned, notwithstanding multiple incidents of non-compliance (at best) in connection with Transnet’s procurement policies having been highlighted in the report,” Gordhan says in court documents.
“I regarded and still consider this failure on the part of the board to be indefensible.”
Gordhan was responding to Radebe’s court bid to challenge his dismissal and reverse the removal of the Transnet board, which will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court next week.
“It is clear that Mr Radebe does not comprehend the enormity of the irregularities committed over a sustained period and which in turn required any new board member to commit himself to deal therewith decisively, expeditiously and with a resolve of putting this SOE back on a footing that can serve the greater interests of South Africa, or, alternatively, Mr Radebe had a remarkably high tolerance for malfeasance”, Gordhan states. Gordhan says Radebe, who is the chairperson of the Transnet audit committee, “unsatisfactorily performed his functions”.“He breached his fiduciary duties, in not motivating the board to commence disciplinary proceedings against the very people identified in the Werksmans report as having caused irregularities resulting in enormous losses to Transnet … Nor did [Radebe] in his aforesaid capacity initiate any steps to cancel the tenders which are permeated with corrupt practices and has resulted in unauthorised and wasteful expenditure”.
Radebe maintains he was only appointed in December last year and “the allegations of impropriety occurred before my tenure and appointment to the board of Transnet”.
He further argues that the Werksmans report that Gordhan says required urgent action was not final, and further investigation was needed before any such action could be taken.
According to Radebe, Werksmans “could not interview” certain “material and key persons” when they conducted their procurement investigation – including former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh and Gupta family lieutenant Salim Essa. He says the firm itself acknowledged that it’s report was “incomplete”.
This, he maintains, is why he and the former Transnet board decided to appoint another audit firm to do further forensic investigation into the procurement of the 1,064 locomotives – a decision he says was made in good faith.
Gordhan argues that Werksmans could not interview Singh, Essa and others implicated in serious allegations of state capture because the firm did not have the power to subpoena witnesses.
Nevertheless, he says, the report contains a number of “final recommendations” – all of which Radebe and his board failed to act on.