The former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa’s) corporate tender procurement committee on Tuesday told the Zondo commission he was excluded from the meeting nine years ago where the infamous Swifambo locomotive tender was approved.
Tiro Holele refuted evidence by former Prasa chairperson Lucky Montana that he was central to the irregular R3.5-billion deal and suggested that he was deliberately circumvented when it was approved.
He said he only learnt about it years later when the locomotives were due to arrive in Cape Town.
Prasa paid R2.6-billion of the contract price but only 13 out of 88 Spanish-built locomotives were delivered and proved to be too tall for South African infrastructure.
Shown the purported minutes of the meeting on 11 July 2012, Holele told the commission scornfully that the document did not qualify as such.
“This is not a minute,” he stressed, adding that it needed to reflect a full discussion on the merits of the business case and speak to the issues the board would consider when they weighed it.
Moreover, in the case of a deal with such a steep price tag, one would have expected the committee to meet for several days to discuss it.
“I did not sit in that meeting, I did not chair that meeting,” he said, adding that had he been present, he would not have signed off on the document.
“We are here because Mr Montana said I, as chairman of the corporate tender procurement committee, was at the heart of this deal … but the only thing that places me at the Swifambo deal is this so-called minute. This is as good as it gets,” Holele added, before saying there was a pattern in corrupt tenders where senior executives claimed that they were at a remove, when they drove the process.
“They tampered with the specifications ahead of time, they recruited each other to come and hedge Swifambo, they kept the documents at their homes, they manipulated the scores … they bought property, they bought cupboards of R5-million.”
Holele said those implicated have “shown the commission the middle finger” by refusing to appear before it, an apparent reference to Swifambo Rail director Auswell Mashaba.
It was known from forensic investigations who the culprits were, but they chose to blame subordinates in a routine that regularly plays out across departments and entities, he said.
“People at the top of the command chain do this, we know they did it from under apartheid, they are doing it right into the democracy. They say, no, at my level, I am not involved in procurement. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they commandeer the very process, they threaten employees, they bully them.
“They demote them, they fire them, they send a message to the system that you don’t do what I communicate that I privately need done … and then they don’t leave their fingerprints at the crime scene.”
He said he had initially enjoyed a good working relationship with Montana, but this had soured.
“Increasingly you had this dictatorial approach to leadership, it bordered on paranoia, it became more and more political. Exco became this place where it was just more and more his way or the highway.”
He accused Montana of implicating him in oral evidence instead of a written affidavit to prevent the commission from serving him with a rule 3.3 notice, to allow him to respond with his own affidavit.
“He is not going to accuse us properly in an affidavit…. He is going to come here and make his own rules,” Holele said.