JOHANNESBURG, November 12 – Although former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama faced serious misconduct charges at the state-owned enterprise, former president Jacob Zuma was having none of it and insisted that Gama become CEO, former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan told the Zondo commission on Monday.
Hogan read an extract from a document making a recommendation to a minister for the purpose of appointing a Transnet CEO. Current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was once considered to head Transnet but later withdrew his candidacy and became finance minister shortly thereafter, she said in testimony before the commission into the state capture.
”Although… and this is important because it has been distorted a lot of times…although the preference was to appoint a suitably qualified internal candidate after consideration of the current global economic meltdown and global recession, its current and future impact on Transnet and consideration of these individuals, the nominations committee fully supported by the board recommended Pravin Gordhan on the basis of the strength he displayed against competency profile and in comparison to other candidates who were interviewed,” Hogan read from a guideline the board prepared for her predecessor, former public enterprises minister Brigitte Mabandla.
Gama, who headed Transnet Freight Rail at the time, was then put forward to take over as CEO. However, an internal investigation had unearthed evidence of misconduct against Gama, and this concerned the board, which was chaired by Fred Phaswana at the time.
”The board then had to find another CEO, as Miss [Maria] Ramos was ready to leave and move on. The board requested minister Mabandla to start a further search because in the interviews done, the candidates did not meet requirements to be CEO. The board then requested the minister to allow them time to do a further search for a CEO… they never got a reply. The minister asked for CVs of other internal candidates,” Hogan said.
”At one stage she told the board to send her a couple of names which she would put before a panel for them to decide…it wasn’t a Cabinet panel so I was not sure which panel she was referring to…the process went backwards and forwards. When I was appointed a minister in May, the matter [of appointing CEO] had not been concluded.”
Mabandla then approved Chris Wells as acting CEO, who had been Transnet CFO. Wells recommended the now disgraced Anoj Singh who had been at National Treasury at the time, to take over as acting Transnet CFO.
The board’s search came up with the name of now Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko, who had, among others, headed BP SA.
In a meeting with Zuma, Hogan said she updated him on the process of appointing the CEO, but met with resistance from the former president who wanted Gama ”and no one else.”
”I was extremely shocked…the president would not hear of any candidate except Siyabonga Gama. I informed him how professional the selection process was, and that Gama was facing some serious misconduct charges and that the board, in terms of the PMFA was obliged to investigate the charges…and that under these circumstances it would not be in the interest of Transnet to appoint a CEO who’s time would be spent defending himself against the charges he was facing. I was recommending Mr Maseko on the basis of the recommendations made by the board, the professional evaluation committee and so on….whose recommendation spoke glowingly of Mr Maseko,” she said.
She said she insisted to Zuma that Gama could not be appointed until his internal disciplinary hearing was completed. Zuma, however, pressed her to appoint Gama.
”He said you will appoint no one, I said no,” Hogan added.
The charges against Gama related to the irregular awarding of an R18 million security contract to a company owned by former SANDF chief of staff and now MK Council president Siphiwe Nyanda. Gama was found guilty of every charge in 2010. He was then dismissed, only to be reappointed following ”a review of the dismissal.” The new board at the time that took over from Phaswana and was headed by Mafika Mkwanazi, reversed the previous board’s decision on Gama, allowing him to return to Transnet.
Gama was later appointed acting CEO and then later permanent CEO in 2016 until his dismissal last month, as Gordhan embarked on a ”sweeping clean” of the country’s bitterly compromised state-owned enterprises.