PASSENGER Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa’s) silence regarding the qualifications of its engineer in charge of a R3.5bn locomotive deal has moved beyond awkward.
Earlier this week Netwerk24 reported that David Mtimkulu, the Executive Manager: Engineering Services did not have the qualifications he claimed to have. Mr Mtimkulu claimed a B. Tech in engineering and a masters and doctoral degree which he obtained in Germany.
This sort of embarrassed pause can mean only two things.
One, the man has qualifications and his documents to verify his education have been hidden at the four corners of the earth.
Why else in a world of instant communications has his record, however scattered, not been reproduced and shoved in the faces of those who have cast doubt on the legitimacy of his claims?
Second, he does not have the qualifications that he has claimed. This would be the worst outcome for him, for Prasa and for the executives who have trusted him and the image of the procurement programme.
The scrutiny of Mr Mtimkulu by the Afrikaans language news outlet is likely to have been elicited after Prasa CEO Lucky Montana’s inflammatory comments in a press conference earlier this week. The press conference was hastily arranged to refute claims made by Rapport that new locomotives bought by Prasa were unsuitable and SA’s largest tender blunder.
Mr Montana said the reporting and the conclusions drawn by the newspaper were meant to create the impression that Prasa was being run by incompetent or corrupt people. He said these allusions were likely influenced by racism.
A disappointing answer from Mr Mtimkulu will be an embarrassment especially to Mr Montana who has bragged about Prasa investing in its staff using Mr Mtimkulu as an example on more than one occasion.
It will also ratchet up the pressure on Mr Montana who is under attack from within Prasa from some of his own executives and board members.
The debacle has left Prasa spokesman Moffet Mofokeng dangling in the wind. In a 702 radio interview earlier this week Mr Mofokeng for a quarter of an hour was unable to answer direct questions regarding Mr Mtimkulu’s academic record.
A retreat to the position now being held by Prasa is that the agency’s human resources department is investigating the allegations made while there is furious activity behind the scenes. This can only mean the agency is scrambling to manage the fallout from this.
Mr Mtimkulu’s phone is off and he has not responded to SMS requests for comments or interviews. Mr Mofokeng has not commented beyond a statement issued two days ago, stating consultations are ongoing. His phone is also off.
If Mr Mtimkulu has lied then Prasa must move swiftly and admit this, act against Mr Mtimkulu and apologise to the public.
The agency will then have to work twice as hard to restore the faith in the new locomotive programmes Mr Mtimkulu has been part of. Especially after reports last week that claimed the new locomotives were not suitable for South African conditions and were too tall.
Prasa has refuted these claims in detail, but the doubt has been created.