It was no holds barred for former Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) chief executive Lucky Montana when he appeared before the parliamentary inquiry into governance failures at Eskom.
Montana implicated not only the Gupta brothers, but the ANC’s former treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and former transport minister Dipuo Peters in wrongdoing at the rail agency.
He acknowledged that it would be fair to say the state is corrupt and that President Jacob Zuma’s name was used when attempts were made in its capture.
In a frank testimony, Montana told MPs that the Guptas, alongside Duduzane Zuma, tried to manipulate the rolling stock tender and wanted their associates to be appointed in the evaluation bid committee to decide how the tender was awarded and when that attempt failed, they pushed for the dissolution of the Prasa board.
Montana said problems started when there was a tender out for the supply of 600 commuter trains, which the Guptas and Duduzane had an interest in.
He said he was invited to a meeting by public enterprises deputy minister Ben Martins, who was minister of transport at the time, at his [Martins] official residence in September 2012. They were later joined by Tony Gupta and Duduzane.
Montana said at that meeting Martins informed him that the two businessmen were interested in the Prasa rolling stock programme, but that they didn’t discuss any details.
He only discovered the extent of the Guptas’ interest when he attended Innotrans, an international trade fair for transport technology in Berlin, Germany, where different rolling stock manufacturers informed him they had been interacting with the Gupta family or people on the Guptas’ payroll who said they were working for him (Montana), Martins and Jacob Zuma.
“The Guptas were extorting money from manufacturers and had wanted this money paid into some account in Dubai and stated they were working for President JG Zuma, minister Ben Martins and Lucky Montana. I was so furious. They were extorting money in our names,” he said.
Montana said some manufacturers informed him that they were summoned to Zurich, Switzerland, to attend a meeting chaired by Gupta associate Salim Essa.
“It was at this meeting that they were instructed to pay monies if they wanted to get a share of the Prasa new-build programme,” he said.
Montana claimed that on his return from Berlin, he requested Martins to organise another meeting with Tony and Duduzane as he was now clear about what they wanted.
When he sought to rebuke them at that meeting, “Tony Gupta and Duduzane were very shameless; they said ‘Lucky, you are not going to be at Prasa forever. We can take you to Dubai. You will work with us and we will take care of you’,” he revealed.
The Guptas allegedly also wanted Essa and his former business partner Iqbal Sharma to sit on the evaluation board for the rolling stock tender.
Montana said the Guptas were working with China South Rail but when that company did not get the contract they then turned to China North Rail, but that too didn’t make it.
Then they worked with a company called China South Rail Vitra which also did not make it.
Having failed to secure the tender for China South Rail, the Guptas pushed for the dissolution of the Prasa board and for Montana’s dismissal as Prasa group chief executive and pushed the department of transport to appoint a new board that would serve the interests of the Guptas, with Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi as its chairman.
“They wanted the tender for the rolling stock to be changed and they were desperate to have the Prasa board changed,” he said.
Montana said he realised that the Guptas were serious about bringing about changes to the Prasa board when then transport director-general, George Mahlalela, showed him a Cabinet memo with new names for the Prasa board.
Montana also claimed that former transport minister Peters wanted them to cancel or delay the rolling stock tender awarded to Gibela Rail Consortium, but they refused to accede to her request “because if we did, Metrorail would have collapsed”.
He said they had also obtained a legal opinion showing that such cancellation would be in breach of the procurement laws of the country.
“However, the most powerful political force that won the day and changed the course of Prasa forever, was driven by none other than the former minister of transport, Honourable Dipuo Peters, working with the former ANC treasurer-general, Dr Zweli Mkhize,” he said.
“The two, with the support of other unnamed officials at Luthuli House, were key to the appointment of the new Prasa board that served their interests.”
Montana claimed that Peters brought in Popo Molefe and Willem Steenkamp, the same people she had appointed to the PetroSA board when she was energy minister.
Mkhize demanded the appointment of Zodwa Manase, who was put in charge of the audit committee and Prasa finances, so that she could manage the flow of money in the business, claimed Montana.
Molefe was appointed chairperson of the Prasa board.
Montana made a startling claim that Mkhize, in his capacity as ANC treasurer-general, wanted Prasa to pay him 10% of the R465 million that was due to Swifambo Rail Leasing in terms of the contract.
“Like we did with the Guptas, I rejected this demand as unlawful and stated firmly that it will not be done,” said Montana.
He said like Peters, Mkhize admonished them [Prasa leadership] for appointing the “French colonialists” with “a terrible track record in Africa”.
The Gibela Rail Consortium, led by French company Alstom, won the tender to supply 600 new commuter trains to replace the entire fleet of Metrorail.
“He (Mkhize) made veiled threats that he will deal with us. One of his accusations was that we were giving the ANC ‘peanuts’ whilst we took the bulk of the money for ourselves.”
Montana claimed that he had met Mkhize on several occasions at Angolan businesswoman Maria Gomes’ house to discuss ANC finances and fundraising. Attempts to get hold of Mkhize for comment were unsuccessful on Tuesday evening.
Montana was at pains to emphasise that his ANC comrades also wanted to steal from the state and in fact did worse things than the Gupta family which is usually criticised for alleged state capture.
Martins told journalists in November that besides meeting the Guptas at a food fair at their Saxonwold home, he met with Tony Gupta when he [Gupta] visited his government house with Montana to discuss a matter relevant to transport at that stage.
The inquiry continued on Tuesday evening with testimony from Martins.