Prasa’s ‘incorruptible’ CEO says he’s the victim of a ‘media assault’

At a press conference, 'Mr Fix-It' said he would demand a front-page apology and claimed he's being targeted because he's rooting out corruption.

Responding to the allegation that he had increased his own salary by 350% and demanded a chauffeur and a limitless cellphone package, acting Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) CEO Collins Letsoalo hit back at the Sunday Times’ front-page article at a press conference in Pretoria on Monday morning.

He said such reports were part of an unholy alliance between those seeking “to destabilise Prasa and, it looks like, the media”. He said the lies and attacks were in reaction to the fact that he was actually cleaning up corruption and nepotism at Prasa.

He said he was aware of at least three further articles in the pipeline against him, but he’d deal with those as they arose.

Letsoalo was brought in by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters in July to save the embattled organisation after former CEO Lucky Montana was found guilty of irregular and wasteful expenditure related to tenders. The Sunday Times reported that Letsoalo demanded to be paid the R5.9 million that Montana received annually. Instead of his R1.9 million salary and 12% acting allowance, Letsoalo reportedly put pressure on Bhekani Khumalo, group executive for human capital, to increase his salary by 350%.

Letsoalo said he was well aware of who was behind the smear campaign, and he would release their names later.

“We must never be naive. You must understand the interests at Prasa. If you have an organisation with R13.9 billion in irregular expenditure, what will happen when you try to change that? When you are trying to change a [corrupt] system, there will always be resistance.”

He said: “I’m really disappointed in the kind of journalism that seeks to undermine the good work journalists are doing.”

He said he had never approved his own salary and even worked for Prasa for four months with no pay. “I don’t know how it is I could have increased my own salary.”

He showed journalists his documentation and said: “I have a letter here confirming my appointment. Here are the facts.” He said his facts completely dispelled the notion that he had increased his “own salary from R1.9 million to nearly R6 million.”

He read out loud from the letters from Prasa’s board and the remuneration executive at Prasa, which said made it clear “he was eligible to receive all the benefits applicable to the CEO position”.

“I also enquired about the car and driver, which I was informed is for the use of the group CEO.

“There were also reports that the then CEO Lucky Montana had asked for an increase from the Prasa board based on a fraudulent offer.”

Letsoalo said he had asked for that offer to be struck out, since it was fraudulent.

He then went into details about the more than R5.9 million package he had been offered and which kicked in in November, which included medical aid, a provident fund, car allowance and funeral benefit.

Letsoalo had actually been on a package of R1.3 million at the department of transport and the original understanding of his move to Prasa had been that his package would remain unchanged. He said that he would never have accepted the move if “doing so much work” would have had to be done for nothing.

“I wanted what was entitled to me … four months down the line. Four months without getting what was in the agreement. I should have been entitled to the new package in July, but it only started in November.”

He also took issue with reports that he had demanded a limitless cellphone package, but he said it was his own personal cellphone package, which he’d been on since 2013.

He said he’d been told that the CEO’s car and chauffeur were part of the package, only to read in the Sunday Times it “is outside of the package”. The previous two CEOs had received the same benefit, he said.

He said that his remuneration package was an annual amount of R5,986,140.07.

The Sunday Times reported that Khumalo was fired and replaced with Pearl Munthali, who proceeded to request an increase for Letsoalo from the department of transport’s director-general Mathabatha Mokonyama, despite Peters making it clear Letsoalo should remain on the R1.9 million pay grade as he had been seconded to the agency from the Road Traffic Management Corporation.

“Please note that your rank, salary and seniority date remain unchanged. Your service benefits will also remain unchanged. The salary paid from the department will be claimed from Prasa,” wrote Dipuo Peters.

Mokonyama told the Sunday Times it had been the decision of the Prasa board to implement a pay increase for Letsoalo, while Prasa spokewoman Lillian Mofokeng confirmed Letsoalo’s pay had been approved.

Letsoalo said on Monday: “I think I must also address the matter that Mr Bhekani Khumalo has been dismissed. That’s not true, I don’t know where that comes from.

“He used to be the acting group executive responsible for human capital at Prasa, which he held for 11 months. I took him back to his substantive position at Prasa. The man is not dismissed at all. He is at Prasa. I don’t know where Sunday Times gets that.

“No amount of subterfuge by those professing to have the best interests of Prasa at heart will succeed.”

He said he would continue to fight corruption and nepotism at the passenger rail agency.

“We must never deviate from the course. Dogs never bark at stationary cars.”

He said his turnaround plan for the state-owned enterprise was continuing and nothing would dissuade him and his team.

He said he had complained to the Sunday Times editor prior to publication about the journalist who’d written the article, but the paper had ignored his concerns and the facts he’d presented.

“The facts speak for themselves. You be the judge.

“I also think the attack on Transport Minister Dipuo Peters is unwarranted.

“Lastly, let me thank those who have been my support, my family, especially my wife and my kids. I say to them ‘I continue to be the man you know. I will never disappoint you on matters of governance.’

“I continue to work for this state, I’ve worked at times for free, simply because I believed that was the best thing to do … I remain a proud, incorruptible public servant. No amount of front-page attacks are going to worry me much.

“I’m not a bitter person. I hear that I was trending … but do people understand I was trending based on lies … but I remain strong, I soldier on.

“At Prasa, today is a better day than yesterday. I’m quite sure that tomorrow will be a better day than today. We are getting there, we are rooting out corruption, we are getting there.

“You can go to Mamelodi, you will find trains there … that fit, by the way.

“We will work very hard with our colleagues who are interested in working to make Prasa a better place. I will leave Prasa a better place than I found it.”

He later said during a question-and-answer session that he was still taking legal opinion on whether to sue for defamation or lodge a complaint with the press ombudsman.

He said he would want a front-page retraction from the Sunday Times in bold on the front page declaring “Sunday Times got it wrong”.

“A small retraction would be unfair.”

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