The return of Siyabonga Gama

[] — SIYABONGA Gama has been re-appointed chief executive of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) the organisation from which he was summarily dismissed in June last year.

The announcement was made on Wednesday by new Transnet CEO Brian Molefe in a press release giving the final make-up of the new Transnet executive committee.

According to Molefe, “it is my belief that the reconfigured executive committee will contribute significantly to ensuring that the company plays a key role in making South Africa’s new growth plan a reality and that Transnet plays its rightful role as the custodian of South Africa’s rail, port and pipeline infrastructure.’

That’s not how some of the country’s coal exporters view Gama’s re-appointment to run TFR given their previous experiences with his management administration.

According to one coal industry source, “the real problems with TFR started when Gama took it over in 2005.’

RBCT export statistics back that contention up. The RBCT exported a record 69mt in 2005 but exports then slumped to 61.8mt by 2008 and 61.1mt during 2009.

Gama was suspended in September 2009. Coal exports rose to 63.4mt during 2010 as then Transnet acting CEO Chris Wells focussed closely on turning around the underperformance by TFR on the Richards Bay line.

At investor conferences during his tenure as TFR CEO, Gama repeatedly laid all the blame for the dropping export levels on the coal companies which, he claimed, were not producing the coal.

That was rejected by the coal exporters who blamed TFR’s lack of rail capacity and operational underperformance for most of the problems.

Gama was also accused by the exporters of not being sufficiently well-informed about what was actually happening on the ground in the organisation he was supposed to be running.

In June 2009, Wells and then Transnet CEO Maria Ramos conceded that TFR had been responsible for much of the coal export shortfalls during 2007 and 2008.

Wells repeated that admission in October last year when he said he believed TFR had finally turned the corner and would now be able to deliver consistent improvements in railages.

Wells announced his resignation in November and will leave Transnet at the end of March.

Gama was found guilty by the independent chairman of the internal Transnet disciplinary hearing on all three charges brought against him including one of “irretrievable breakdown in relationship with Transnet’.

He was re-instated on February 23 by the new Transnet board “following a review of his dismissal for certain governance breaches. “

The Transnet statement added, “Mr Gama’s reinstatement is subject to a final written warning given the fact that Mr Gama was not found guilty of corruption and/or dishonesty.

“The Board is of the view that such an agreement is in the best interest of the company. The Board believes the settlement brings finality to this matter and would bring an end to the harmful publicity surrounding it.’