The Passenger Rail Agency of SA's (Prasa's) R123bn fleet renewal programme will not be held to ransom by the political interests of a black business interest group, says Prasa CEO Lucky Montana.
In April, more than 60 rolling stock equipment manufacturers and their partners bought tender documents for Prasa's programme aimed at replacing the ageing and unreliable metro rail coaches that ferry 2,3-million South Africans daily.
Last week, the Black Business Council (BBC) - which was moribund after its launch in 2003 but was relaunched last September after its relationship with Business Unity SA had soured - criticised Prasa's approach to black economic empowerment (BEE).
BBC secretary-general Sandile Zungu said this suggested black business "must wait until a suitable foreign contractor has been selected (and) is tantamount to saying black people have no role to play and therefore no value to add in bid stages' technical and financial work".
"It is dangerous in the extreme as it feeds into the stereotype that black economic empowerment is about handouts," he said.Montana doesn't mince his words
Montana, a blunt speaker whose corruption-busting efforts had led to death threats and a 24hour bodyguard, said yesterday the BBC had the right to raise these issues, but could not elevate the interests of individuals.
"Many of their members are involved in the bidding process and this is an attempt to politicise a legitimate process. They want to get the leadership of the African National Congress involved and the government," he said.
"Some people believe they have a God-given right that any public tender must be structured to suit them and then they basically try and make our process appear illegitimate. We will not tolerate that."
Prasa branded last week's statements from the BBC and Zungu as "an arrogant attack", and described the BBC's intentions as a naked attempt to "influence and politicise" procurement processes.
"I find it so arrogant of the BBC to make itself the judge of broad based black economic empowerment," Montana said. "BBBEE is a necessity because of our history and is a part of the transformation of our country. It is a policy of our government and for the BBC to assume to be the judge of what is empowerment and what is not, is so arrogant.
"Who said this black equity belongs to the black bourgeoisie? We could say that we want to give it to our workers."No approaches from BBC
Montana said the BBC had never approached Prasa to discuss its concerns about the fleet renewal programme, but "disingenuously" made a request for a meeting after complaining to the media that black business had been left out in the cold. A meeting between the two organisations had now been scheduled.
"We are not prepared to compromise the request for a proposal process to accommodate vested interests. This must be about commuters, railways and skills. This is not about individuals. We will not be compromised."
Zungu acknowledged yesterday Montana had a point about his organisation going to the media about Prasa without raising it with the agency first.
He said the BBC spoke on behalf of its members, black business organisations. It was not a voice for the black bourgeoisie as it represented the broadest range of black business from survivalist enterprises to "professionals who charge by the hour".
Zungu said he had no personal involvement in the Prasa investment programme, but as a businessman he was interested. "I cannot ever say I am not interested. As to whether I am involved, the answer is no," he said.
His interest in participating in the programme did not compromise his own views on Prasa's empowerment approach, he said.Montana: 'BBC wants handouts'
The BBC had met Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe - who chairs the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission - at the weekend, Zungu said, but he would not be drawn on whether his problems with Prasa had been discussed.
"I won't go into details of what we raised, but we gave him an update on our national council meeting. Since the BBC was formed we haven't really had a chance to update him on how we are doing. It was really of a general nature," Zungu said.
"I can't say it (the Prasa programme) did or didn't come up. The report was of a general nature and in terms of protocol it may not be correct to say what was said by X or what was said by Y."
Prasa's three-legged empowerment programme includes the warehousing of a 26%-40% stake, for which any black firm or individual would be allowed to bid.
Zungu insisted yesterday that only 26% would be warehoused, but later conceded that it could be as much as 40%.
The second part of the plan is designed to attract black companies and black-empowered companies to supply at least 65% of components.
The government hopes to use the investment in commuter rail to revive SA's rail engineering industry. Winning equipment manufacturers will have to procure a minimum of 65% of the new coaches' components and parts from South African companies.
The third leg aimed at "creating a new generation" of railway workers from all skills sets, Montana said. "Our model is to ensure that BEE companies will come into the programmes in their own right rather than as juniors, which is not what they (the BBC) want. They want handouts," he said.
"I find it so arrogant that they think BEE belongs to them when it belongs to the country and all our people. I don't want any lecture from anyone about implementing government policy; I have a constitution to guide me on the transformation imperatives of this country."
Source: Business Day
via I-Net Bridge