Analysis

Letsoalo’s Sacking Was Never About The Salary

By Pinky Khoabane

FOR those of you who cannot recall who Collins Letsoalo is, a little reminder. He’s the man who was fired shortly after being employed to replace Lucky Montana at the beleaguered Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). His crime, we were told, was that he increased his salary by 350%. This didnt quite make sense. There were too many questions that just didnt add up – how does one pay themselves a salary in an organisation that doesn’t belong to them? Where was the Board?

Nonetheless, Letsoalo was fired and the Board under Popo Molefe, which should have had some answering to do, was left standing.

Letsoalo was later vindicated in the North Gauteng High Court in a Judgment by Honourable Judge Mabuse who found as follows:

“In my view the perpetuation of the myth that Letsoalo wanted to increase his salary by 350% per annum is unfounded and unfair to him. The truth is that, based on the information before the Court, Letsoalo was entitled to the same package that was agreed upon in his appointment package or the same package that was enjoyed by Lucky Montana.”

The Public Services Commission (PSC) also endorsed the High Court decision, effectively rendering the salary increase issue a smokescreen.

Then came the Sunday Times which published a story that the Auditor General’s office had instructed Letsoalo to pay back the money. The AGs office has rejected the authenticity of this report on which the Sunday Times and the Democratic Alliance (DA) based their article and statement, respectively. Letsoalo complained to the Press Ombudsman, who was scathing in his ruling https://presscouncil.org.za/Ruling/View/collins-letsoalo-vs-sunday-times-4344

He writes: “I have given the newspaper ample time:

firstly, to provide me with the special report that Kgosana says he has seen and from which he has quoted so lavishly; and secondly, to respond to the content of the letter by the Auditor General…

“It could not provide me with this “special report”, and I am in the dark as to who the source was (if there was one).

“I have no other explanation for Kgosana’s inability / refusal to provide me with this document than one of the following alternatives:

  • Either there is no such document as a “special A-G report”, in which case the journalist has deliberately misled the public, his own newspaper, and this office; or
  • He has accepted the existence of a forged document as a real one, without proper verification.

“I am highly suspicious of Kgosana’s failure to provide me with the “report”. In this circumstance, I am opting for the first alternative as the most likely scenario and reasonable explanation for his failure to co-operate with this office. I believe that, if he had such a document, he would have provided me with it.

This can only mean one thing – the journalist has deliberately misled all and sundry…”

This is an indictment on this journalist but no big surprise from a newspaper which, after publishing a series of stories over a period of over two years, suddenly did an about-turn claiming they were lies. https://www.iol.co.za/business-report/companies/fakenews-paul-osullivan-calls-out-the-sunday-times-17422635

The Sunday Times has capitulated and acknowledged it lied, again, and has offered an apology which Letsoalo is said to have rejected.

Sunday Times Apology

This story is again an illustration of the factionalism in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and how it is eating away at our institutions and destroying people’s lives in the process.

Below is Letsoalo’s full statement about the saga

I issue this statement and hold this press conference in my personal capacity as I have done in challenging the injustices that have been perpetrated against my person in order to malign my name, impugn my dignity and tarnish my reputation as Collins Letsoalo. I issue this as a citizen of South Africa with rights to dignity, freedom of expression, and above all, the right to earn a living! I have hard evidence placed in different areas with different people; just in case those that may want to silence me succeed.

I have decided to do this after much introspection and against one of my strongest beliefs; which I am slowly finding difficult to hold on to; that is, goodwill trounces evil and that the truth will always eventually come to bear. I have since realized that in the world of social media and fake news, truth can be someone else’s truth, my truth, social media truth and so on. There seems not to be a universal truth!

Given this state of affairs, I have decided to take the South African nation into my confidence and provide a detailed account of events that led to me being accused of increasing my own salary by 350% and then being “fired” by the erstwhile PRASA Board under the leadership of Dr. Popo Molefe. Where in the world has a person ever paid himself or increased his own salary?

I’ve been informed by some stakeholders that my removal from PRASA has almost broken the resilient spirit and hope some have. If someone sent to fix an ailing organization can just decide to “steal” from that organization then what is the future? What is wrong with this black african Executives? What is wrong with these civil servants, why do they just steal? I was confronted by my own son, who was 11 at the time about a sports car I had just bought; he said “Dad, they say you stole money and bought this car; this is embarrassing. You always said stealing is bad.” I realized the disappointment in this young boy’s eyes and it was difficult to explain, I said “the truth will come out one day.”

I stated at the time that the fracas was not about a so-called salary increase. It could have never been about that. It is only in South Africa under the leadership of Popo Molefe that rules of natural justice do not apply. Why do you think the board can, without asking my side of the story summarily, dismiss me? I have since accepted, that for certain individuals in this country, rules do not apply! Laws do not exist and they will find every little excuse not to follow the rules or apply the law. I will try to summarize the events leading up to my removal. I may need to give more details in future or in a book I’m surely going to write about this; for the benefit of future generations.

You will remember that, at the time, I mentioned that I was just 6 weeks into my deployment, and after signing an employment contract the board took a decision to remove me from PRASA.

Ask yourself what is this thing that in 6 weeks I would have done to be removed from a position without even starting to do actual work. I was just busy with roadshows and “walking the PRASA environment”. Truth is, through my walkabouts and roadshows, I had unearthed a web of corruption and looters! I had unearthed what I termed “blame Lucky Montana and the previous board – syndrome”. It had engulfed the organization from the board all the way to the tea lady.

I quickly discovered that some amongst the board and executives were pathological liars. Board members and executives were more concerned about payments of suppliers and some  had the tendency of “dropping in” just to “check how the organization is doing”; without any appointment they will demand that I be dragged out of meetings. I was going to have none of that! I immediately instructed executives not to take any instructions directly from anyone and take all instructions from me! Then all hell broke loose, at this time the Chairperson seemed supportive of my efforts.

I had entered a lions den and I was surrounded; in every board meeting, most of them “special”and without any proper notice, my removal was a standard agenda item. There will be what is called an “in-committee” meeting in instances without the Company Secretary. These “cloak and dagger meetings” had no recordings nor minutes. They took hours at times. Some, executive decisions were taken in these meetings without the only Executive Director, the Group CEO, present. In some meetings, discussions were about a certain Executive’s parents who had called to ask why she was dismissed.

It was never about the trains, performance, or customers! 

It was about the investigations, procurement plan, the payments of suppliers and non payment of others. For example, one of the executives responsible for IT, received death threats after refusing to sign an SAP contract and make payments. This, was after a board member enquired about this payment. Almost every board committee focused on monies, not how to cut expenses; grow revenue; ensure trains are on time, are clean or that they are maintained.

The Engineering function had collapsed and there was no maintenance plan;

There was canibalization of the fleet as a the performance of GO contracts had effectively collapsed;

Absenteeism was at 80% mostly at Head Office (one Executive just refused to come to work and when I dismissed him, the board complained.  He had been absent from work for more than 3 months without leave);

There were no job profiles or performance contracts especially for senior executives;

Employees Relations was used as a henchmen and consequently spent 80% of their time at CCMA and Labour Court;

There was rampant sexual harassment some involving executives;

The list is endless!

Effectively, no one cared; very few executives commuted themselves ever commuted in a train, Metrorail. I introduced a system of holding meetings at train stations and insisted that executives take the train to these meetings. I took the trains, visited depots, and regional offices, unannounced. It was business unusual and I made enemies at lightning speeds.

I then unwittingly disturbed the hornet’s nest when in December 2016, before the festive period, I requested each employee to declare their business interests and those of their close family and relatives who are doing business with PRASA. I also requested them to disclose blood relations with other PRASA employees and the nature of such relationships. The results were shocking to say the least, we found massive conflict of interests and what clearly looked like the highest form of nepotism. That’s what employees were complaining about! You may ask the question, where was Organized Labour? The allegations will also shock you but that is not the focus for now!

Suddenly, I had made enough enemies on the board, within Executive Management and now the dynasties that are in the employ of PRASA.

I then made another colossal mistake, I honored an instruction from both the Minister, the PCOT, and SCOPA to curb the runaway costs of an irregular and unbudgeted work for a Werksmans contract and requested the Board members to pay back monies they irregularly received as board fees. I insisted on ensuring that we pay for what we procured and put effective contract management in place. I also refused to cross swords with the Hawks and demanded a board decision on some letters the Board Chair was writing to the Hawks.

The Chairperson then turned against me! I then found myself a lone voice, I became too much. In that eventful board meeting of the 24th February 2018, there was another “in-committee” with a standard agenda item “contract of Acting GCEO”. My fate was sealed, no chance of reply, and “concoct a salary increase story to disempower the Minister should she insist on him staying”. I subsequently, in April 2017, opened a perjury case again Popo Molefe at Brooklyn Police Station, Case no:341/4/2017. It was since taken to SAPS Provincial under W/O Mota and since September last year it has been shunted with no progress given. Mr. Molefe knew about my salary package as contained in the evidence I adduced to the police, why can he lie under oath and get away with it?

In April 2017, the North Gauteng High Court in a Judgment If Honourable Judge Mabuse then found as follows:

“In my view the perpetuation of the myth that Letsoalo wanted to increase his salary by 350% per annum is unfounded and unfair to him. The truth is that, based on the information before the Court, Letsoalo was entitled to the same package that was agreed upon in his appointment package or the same package that was enjoyed by Lucky Montana.”

I also received a letter addressed to the Minister of Transport from the Public Services Commission quoting the same High Court decision effectively ensuring that all are aware of this High Court decision.

Enters Caiphus Kgosana:

Around May 2018 I was again appointed as non-executive board member and word has it that most of my declared nemesis at PRASA, knowing that the truth will again be exposed about their misdemeanors, started to panic. The first salvo was a letter from a Trade Union known as UNTU voicing unhappiness with my appointment, ostensibly on the basis of a perpetuation of a myth that I paid myself. Then it was followed by some media article which never gained traction.

Then someone, we are still to be told who, manufactured or forged an “AGSA  Special Audit Report” and “gave” it to a Sunday Times Journalist, Mr. Caiphus Kgosana. On 22 June 2018, he then called me to say “those stories in PRASA are back”. I responded by referring him to the High Court ruling and the PSC letter and requested him to contact both the AGSA and the DOT. He did no such thing and went on to print an article without  verifying with the AGSA.

I then reported the matter to the Press Ombudsman who made damning findings, amongst which are. I quote:

I have given the newspaper ample time:

  • firstly, to provide me with the special report that Kgosana says he has seen and from which he has quoted so lavishly; and
  • secondly, to respond to the content of the letter by the A-G.

It and he could not provide me with this “special report”, and I am in the dark as to whom the source was (if there was one).

 Instead, Smuts has sent me a Prasa document, in which it is stated that the latter should disclose some information to the A-G. However, this is a far cry from an investigation by the A-G, let alone from a finding made by that institution.

I have no other explanation for Kgosana’s inability / refusal to provide me with this document than one of the following alternatives:

  • Either there is no such document as a “special A-G report”, in which case the journalist has deliberately misled the public, his own newspaper, and this office; or
  • He has accepted the existence of a forged document as a real one, without proper verification.

 I am highly suspicious of Kgosana’s failure to provide me with the “report”. In this circumstance, I am opting for the first alternative as the most likely scenario and reasonable explanation for his failure to co-operate with this office. I believe that, if he had such a document, he would have provided me with it.

 This can only mean one thing – the journalist has deliberately misled all and sundry.”

On the Headline the Press Ombudsman remarks as follows:

“I have hardly, if indeed ever, seen such misleading, unfair and untrue statements in a headline.” 

The Sunday Times has left all of us still in the dark about what happened as they failed to cooperate with the Press Ombudsman’s office in submitting document and reasons for their actions.

The Sunday Times has in its possession a “forged document” from the AGSA therefore aiding criminals, whomever they are.

We are also not taken into their confidence as to:

The source of the “forged document”,

The intention of the source or the journalist;

Where Sunday Times got the terms of reference of the “special audit report” as they stated in their submissions to the ombudsman;

Why they continued to perpetuate a myth they knew would be unfair and unjust;

Why this happened when I was appointed to the PRASA board; and

Why insist on calling me “350% Boss”.

What has happened to Kgosana? What are his responses to the above questions. Who is his source and why after finding out that the AGSA document is forged did he not open a case of fraud against his source? I will be opening the case of fraud against him and his source. He will disclose the source to the police.

Whither SANEF, when a signatory of the Press Code undermines the Press Ombudsman and does not cooperate, what must be done? Whither South Africa, when people forge Chapter 9 institutions’ reports to frame others, what must be done?

I remain a dedicated and committed civil servant. I stole no ones money. The DA is also still to apologize for calling me a thief and that I stole PRASA monies. Even after the AGSA wrote them a letter they chose to remain silent, maybe to them, a black african’s career does not matter but as I said in my lawyers’ letters, the summons are on the way. We will meet in court! I will never leave this matter here, an apology is just not enough; not at this stage after so much damage!

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